While the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has filed a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit against the state’s foster care system, we believe the case should remain intact and make its way through the courts.
The state filed its motion in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in the case Jonathan R. et al. v. Justice et al. that was filed by A Better Childhood, a New York-based advocacy group, against the State of West Virginia.
While state officials claim they have taken great strides in recent years to improve the foster care system, the original lawsuit drastically claims otherwise.
Claims made in the original lawsuit need to be heard in an open courtroom. If not tried in open court, the findings need to be made transparent so the public can make an authentic judgment.
Here is one such claim from the original suit: “DHHR caseworkers routinely exclude foster parents from MDT meetings, verbally threaten to remove children from foster parents’ care when they engage in any sort of advocacy that challenges the caseworkers’ orders, are difficult to contact in crisis situations (such as when consent is needed for medical or behavioral health care), and often speak disrespectfully towards foster parents.”
The original suit also claimed that West Virginia is quick to terminate parental rights, frequently within months after the child is placed with a foster family. The lawsuit states that in 2013, there were 1,040 terminations and 1,988 in 2017.
Meanwhile, the number of adoptions in the state has not kept up, according to the lawsuit, “leading to more children becoming legal orphans, frequently left in institutional settings.”
Meanwhile, in the state’s motion to dismiss, it sounds like the bottom line is that the state feels slighted because they said no one from the filing parties called them beforehand to discuss the allegations made in the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit was filed by some New York-based law firm that not once contacted the leadership at DHHR, never attempted to ask us what we were doing with regard to child welfare, and never once attempted to engage in discussions with DHHR prior to filing this suit. The issues they raise are generally those the Department has already publicly reported to the Legislature and is working to resolve with the input of the Department of Justice, our local stakeholders, the West Virginia Judicial Branch, and the West Virginia Legislature,” said Bill J. Crouch, cabinet secretary of DHHR.
“For an out-of-state group to sue the State of West Virginia to take over our child welfare system is offensive to the many federal, state, and community partners who have worked tirelessly to transform and improve our system.”
And while we applaud DHHR’s hiring of a Foster Care Ombudsman to monitor and report on West Virginia’s child welfare system, we still believe the state and its children would be better served by letting the chips fall where they may and let the suit proceed.
Until we no longer hear that teens who age out of foster care are being driven to homeless shelters and dumped out like garbage, the suit needs to be heard.