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December 19, 2017Announcements

Pennsylvania Child Welfare System Violates Rights of Children with Mental Health Disabilities: Class Action Lawsuit Filed

Disability Rights Pennsylvania files class action lawsuit to address lack of appropriate and community-based services and placements in Pennsylvania for dependent children with mental health disabilities

Harrisburg, PA – Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP) announced today that it has filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children with mental health disabilities to seek broad reform of Pennsylvania’s dependency system.  The lawsuit names the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) and Acting Secretary Teresa Miller as defendants for violations of federal Medicaid law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act).  The six plaintiffs, from Philadelphia, York, and Beaver Counties, raise claims on behalf of themselves and other youth in the system for Pennsylvania’s failure to provide adequate community-based child welfare and mental health services and placements.  The plaintiffs allege that DHS has failed to provide equal access to family-based homes and community services in the most integrated settings.

There are thousands of children with mental health disabilities in the dependency system in Pennsylvania.  Many have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health disabilities due to abuse or neglect they suffered in childhood.  Others have existing or developing mental health conditions that are exacerbated by abuse, neglect, or the conditions of their lives in the dependency system.

Plaintiffs are dependent youth with mental health disabilities, all of whom were removed from abusive or neglectful situations in their younger childhoods.  They have been stuck for months and sometimes years in institutional settings like residential treatment facilities, juvenile justice detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals, waiting for DHS to provide the services they need and a place for them to live.

“The plight of these children is heart-breaking,” said Kelly Darr, DRP’s Legal Director.  “The systems charged with protecting them and providing for their needs are woefully inadequate and discriminatory.  Children do not have sufficient access to family- and community-based mental health and child welfare services to enable them to make and keep a permanent family connection.  As a result, they are bounced between foster care placements and institutions, often waiting for months or years to be ‘accepted’ by the next institution.  Some end up shipped out of state.  It is no way to spend a childhood.”

S.R. is ten-year-old boy who has been in a residential treatment facility for three years.  He has been waiting for the chance to live in a home-like setting with a family, but with few options, he has remained institutionalized.


Teddy Smith, M.T., and S.R. are teens waiting unnecessarily for months at a juvenile detention center for services from DHS.  N.C. is a fifteen-year-old boy who has spent years bouncing around institutions without a permanent place to call home.  In December, with no other options from DHS, he was sent out of state to a facility in Virginia.  Chrystal Steward a nineteen-year-old youth who has been stuck for the last year living at a psychiatric hospital, because there are no services or placements available for her.

“Dependent children with disabilities should not be forced to remain unnecessarily institutionalized because there are no community-based residential services available to meet their needs,” said Shanon Levin, managing attorney at DRP.  “We hope this lawsuit will address that problem.”

Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP) is the statewide protection and advocacy agency for Pennsylvanians with disabilities.  DRP protects and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities so that they may live the lives they choose, free from abuse, neglect, discrimination, and segregation.