An advocacy group for the disabled has launched a federal class-action lawsuit against the state, claiming Pennsylvania’s child welfare system gives short shrift to dependent kids who have mental health and behavioral issues.
In some cases, children who have been removed from abusive homes and other dangerous environments must wait years to receive proper mental health care for the trauma they experienced, Disability Rights Pennsylvania contends in its complaint against the Department of Human Services.
Others are given inappropriate placements, sometimes even held in juvenile detention centers to their psychological detriment or retained at psychiatric centers long after completing their treatment, DAR claims.
It contends that children with mental health concerns even are being shipped to facilities out of state – away from friends and any support network – because Pennsylvania does not have the facilities that can or are willing to treat them.
DHS spokeswoman Rachel Kostelac said Thursday that the agency has a policy of not commenting on cases that are in litigation.
DAR is urging U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III to order the state to make provisions to adequately serve the six children named as plaintiffs in its suit as well as what it estimates are thousands of others under DHS care who are in similar circumstances.
The suit’s plaintiffs include a 15-year-old York County boy who was removed from his parents for abuse and neglect when he was 5. The boy has been bounced among foster homes, residential treatment facilities and psychiatric centers for a decade and has not attended a regular school since the sixth grade. DAR claims he was inappropriately placed in a youth detention center because the state had no other accommodation available.
A similar lack of placement options for kids needing mental health treatment resulted in another plaintiff being sent to the Loysville Youth Development Center, where he was assaulted by staff, DAR contends.
It claims a 19-year-old woman who has been in the child welfare system since 2008 has been left in a psychiatric hospital for more than a year, even though she no longer needs to be there. The state has made no provisions to rehouse her, so “she has nowhere else to go,” DAR contends.
The alleged lack of provision for children such as the plaintiffs amounts to a violation of their civil rights, DAR insists. The suit contains no estimate of how much it would cost to fix those supposed shortcomings.