PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Attorneys for Rhode Island on Friday argued that a federal judge should dismiss a lawsuit that claims that children in the state's foster care system are routinely abused, neglected and shuffled from home to home.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi said she hopes to decide soon whether to grant the request for dismissal.
The 2007 lawsuit calls for an overhaul of the foster care system. Jametta Alston, the state's child advocate at the time, filed the suit on behalf of the roughly 3,000 children in state custody. Ten children who were allegedly abused while in foster care, were listed as plaintiffs and identified by pseudonyms.
The lawsuit says the state's child welfare system is underfunded, mismanaged and in need of a radical overhaul. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking class action status.
Since the suit was filed, all but two of the children named in the lawsuit have been adopted and are no longer in the foster care system. Of the original 10 children named, seven remain plaintiffs.
Brenda Baum, a state assistant attorney general representing Rhode Island, argued that adoption invalidates the children's inclusion in the lawsuit.
Lisi did not rule on the argument, but did say that "now the viability of all but two is questionable," referring to the two plaintiffs still in the foster care system.
While asking that the adopted children's claims should not be thrown out, Susan Lambiase, an attorney for the plaintiffs, noted that their exclusion would not dismiss the case. The two remaining children would be sufficient to allow the case to proceed and for class action status to be granted, she said.
The lawsuit is asking the court to order the state to place a cap on the number of cases foster care workers can manage, to improve training for those workers, to increase the number and types of foster homes, to speed up the rate of adoption and to move children in foster care less frequently, Lambiase said.
Another U.S. District Court judge, Ronald Lagueux, dismissed the lawsuit in April 2009 because, he said, the adults standing in for the children weren't close enough to the children to act on their behalf. That decision was overturned by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston last year. Lagueux recused himself and sent the suit to Lisi.
The New York-based advocacy group Children's Rights, which brought the case along with the Rhode Island's child advocate, has succeeded in achieving foster care reform in eleven states and the District of Columbia, Lambiase said.