Arizona’s Foster Care Youth Lawsuit Granted Class Action Status

Arizona’s child welfare and mental health system is facing a class action lawsuit over allegations the agency violated the rights of several foster care children.

U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver gave the green light to certify the class last month against named directors of the Department of Child Safety (DCS), the Department of Health Services (DHS), and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Originally filed in February 2015 on behalf of 10 Arizona foster children ranging in age from 3 to 14, the class action lawsuit details alleged violations, including a “severe shortage of mental, behavioral and other health services, failure to conduct investigations of reports that children in care have been maltreated while in state custody, a severe shortage of foster homes and failure to engage in basic practices for maintaining family relationships.” Judge Silver’s ruling extends the lawsuit to include all youth in foster care.

The Arizona’s child welfare and mental health system’s class action lawsuit further alleges the state failed to provide foster children with proper health screening and treatment afforded to them under the federal Medicaid law. According to the lawsuit, foster care youth are eligible for Medicaid and services under the program’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit.

Additionally, the class action lawsuit asserts the state was responsible for a “widespread failure to engage in basic child welfare practices aimed at maintaining family relationships.” Specifically, the plaintiffs say the state failed to place siblings together, conduct trial reunifications with birth parents, and failed to provide adequate visitation with children and their biological families.

Attorneys for the foster care plaintiffs are requesting the three state agencies put improvements in place that will allow for the guarantee of EPSDT services, increase the number of available foster homes for children who are not able to be placed with relatives, and to strengthen the birth parent reunification visitation program.

Reportedly, the class action lawsuit stems from claims that more than 20,000 child abuse and neglect allegations were ignored by the agencies for a period of over 60 days. In 2014, state legislators stepped in and removed the Department of Economic Security as the responsible agency and instated DCS as an independent agency.

DCS and DHS both dispute Judge Silver’s ruling for class certification, claiming they have already made strides in improving programs and services to the state’s foster care youth. In a statement issued by DCS spokesman Darren DaRonco, “The Department looks forward to articulating the policies implemented over the last three years which have solidified an enduring commitment to ensuring children in state custody receive the care they need and deserve.”

DCS Director Greg McKay told the Arizona Republic that the class action lawsuit is without merit since the improvements will ensure that the state’s foster youth will no longer be at risk for substantial serious harm.

The class action lawsuit is expected to go to trial in 2018. The foster youth plaintiffs are represented by Harry Frischer of Children’s Rights and Phoenix law firm Coppersmith Brockelman,

The Arizona Foster Care Youth Class Action Lawsuit is Case No. 2:15-cv-00185-ROS, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.