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January 22, 2013

Lawsuit: State allowed abuse of its foster children

BOSTON (AP) — A class-action lawsuit that accuses the state of Massachusetts of allowing thousands of foster children to suffer a wide range of abuse is set to go to trial in federal court.

The lawsuit by the New York City-based advocacy group Children’s Rights accuses Massachusetts of “causing physical and psychological harm to the abused and neglected children it is mandated to protect.” It says the abuse include sexual assault, constant foster home uprooting and inappropriate prescribing of psychotropic drugs.

Opening arguments in the trial, which is expected to take weeks, are scheduled for today at U.S. District Court in Boston.

“When taxpayers hear what they’ve been spending money on, they will be appalled,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights.

But the state plans to argue that Department of Children and Families officials are aware of the problems cited in the lawsuit and have taken steps to improve the child welfare system.

“We’re hoping as we present our stories, the court will conclude that we’re very passionate about making improvements to the system and that we’ve had results,” said Angelo McClain, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

The lawsuit is among more than a dozen filed in recent years by Children’s Rights against child welfare departments nationwide. Massachusetts is the first state to fight the accusations in court, rather than settle.

The lawsuit alleges Massachusetts violated children’s constitutional rights by placing them in dangerous and unstable situations. The suit seeks broad reforms on behalf of approximately 7,500 children in state care.

Reports cited or released by Children’s Rights said federal audits of 47 child welfare jurisdictions ranked Massachusetts 8th worst in mistreatment rates and 13th worst in timeliness of adoptions. They also indicate that children in Massachusetts foster care are prescribed psychiatric medications at a rate far above children who aren’t in state care (40 percent to 10 percent).

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