West Virginia foster care system lawsuit revived by court

Jul 21, 2022, 12:34 AM | Updated: 1:52 pm

FILE - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivers his annual State of the State address in the House C...

FILE - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivers his annual State of the State address in the House Chambers at the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Jan. 8, 2020. Gov. Justice called on state lawmakers Wednesday, July 20, 2022, to meet at the Capitol next week to consider a permanent 10% reduction in the state's income tax. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)

(AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An appeals court has revived a federal lawsuit that a lower court dismissed accusing the state of West Virginia of failing to protect children and fix its overwhelmed foster care system.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday sent the lawsuit back to U.S. District Court in Charleston, pushing back on state claims that a federal court should have no part in disputes about the system.

The lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in October 2019 by a Charleston law firm and two nonprofit advocacy groups on behalf of a dozen children against Gov. Jim Justice, the state Department of Health and Human Resources and other state officials.

A U.S. district judge last year granted the state’s motion to dismiss the case, saying that the state court system should have jurisdiction over child welfare cases. He also determined six of the plaintiffs had left the foster care system, rendering their claims moot.

In its ruling reviving the lawsuit, the appeals court said it supported the idea of a class-action lawsuit.

“For years, West Virginia’s response to any foster-care orders entered as part of the individual state hearings seems to have been to shuffle its money and staff around until the orders run out, entrenching rather than excising structural failures,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the majority opinion. “Forcing Plaintiffs to once more litigate their claims piecemeal would get federalism exactly backwards.”

Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Allison Adler called the appeals court’s decision “discouraging.” In a written statement Thursday, she wrote that the agency believes the federal lawsuit seeks “to interfere with West Virginia state circuit courts’ decision-making abilities related to foster care cases.”

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s child welfare system has “significant administrative problems that hinder its ability to operate effectively.” The 105-page complaint describes stories of neglect and harm done to foster children while under the department’s care. Many were in inadequate and dangerous placements, left without necessary services or forced to languish in foster care for years, including a 17-year-old suicidal boy who slept in a locked cell at a juvenile detention center, the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint also alleges that the state has failed to maintain an adequate number of appropriate foster homes, and that it resorts to quick placements among relatives without vetting or monitoring to ensure children’s safety. The reliance upon kinship caregivers has increased significantly in the past decade.

About 6,600 children are in the foster care system: Demand for services has swelled in part because of the state’s highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. The lawsuit asserts that West Virginia can no longer use the opioid epidemic as an excuse.

There were failed attempts in this year’s legislative session to address the foster care system, which falls under the DHHR. Pay raises for social workers were gutted after a bill aimed at improving foster care services unraveled on the Legislature’s final day in March, then were revived after officials tapped funds from existing vacant positions.

In June, a dashboard debuted with some foster care data collected by the state. Advocates have said making the data available to the public could help both policymakers and nonprofit groups interested in assisting children while keeping residents informed.

That same month, a Virginia consulting firm was awarded a contract to conduct a thorough review of the DHHR, whose $7.6 billion budget represents 39% of the state’s entire spending. Justice, a Republican, vetoed a bill in March that would have split the DHHR into separate agencies, saying he first wanted to look into its “issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.”

In 2019, West Virginia agreed to expand mental health services for children after a federal investigation found the state unnecessarily institutionalized kids with emotional or behavioral disorders.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

1 day ago

File - Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman arrive to the White House for a ...

Associated Press

Regulators take aim at AI to protect consumers and workers

As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI.

3 days ago

FILE - A security surveillance camera is seen near the Microsoft office building in Beijing, July 2...

Associated Press

Microsoft: State-sponsored Chinese hackers could be laying groundwork for disruption

State-backed Chinese hackers have been targeting U.S. critical infrastructure and could be laying the technical groundwork for the potential disruption of critical communications between the U.S. and Asia during future crises, Microsoft said Wednesday.

4 days ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, May 17, 2023, in Washington....

Associated Press

White House unveils new efforts to guide federal research of AI

The White House on Tuesday announced new efforts to guide federally backed research on artificial intelligence

5 days ago

FILE - The Capitol stands in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED...

Associated Press

What it would mean for the economy if the US defaults on its debt

If the debt crisis roiling Washington were eventually to send the United States crashing into recession, America’s economy would hardly sink alone.

6 days ago

FILE - Bryan Kohberger, left, looks toward his attorney, public defender Anne Taylor, right, during...

Associated Press

Judge enters not guilty pleas for suspect in stabbing deaths of 4 University of Idaho students

A judge entered not guilty pleas Monday for a man charged in the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students, setting the stage for a trial in which he could potentially face the death penalty.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

West Virginia foster care system lawsuit revived by court