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Advocacy group suing Alabama DHR; alleges children are being “stuck” in mental health facilities

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 10:46 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Alabama Department of Human Resources is facing a federal class-action lawsuit.

Why?

A state advocacy group says it is failing to do its job caring for and placing children in the foster care system.

The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed the suit Thursday.

If they win, DHR will have to change its policies and expand the community foster care system, that way children who are ready to transition out of mental health facilities have a place to go.

Picture this, being forced to stay 10 feet away from your peers and not have any social interactions for close to a year. That’s what this lawsuit alleges one 17-year-old went through at one psychiatric residential treatment facility or PRTF.

Alabama has 19 PRTFs housing state youth.

“These children were becoming institutionalized. And many of them, having spent their whole teenage lives in these facilities, would then be aged out into the adult world,” associate director of ADAP, Nancy Anderson said.

The lawsuit alleges children who are eligible for foster care are remaining in these facilities for extended periods of time.

Anderson says DHR admitted to relying on these facilities due to a lack of foster care options.

“We think far more children get put into these facilities than should ever happen. And then when they get in them, they get stuck,” she said.

Stuck in places attorney Tommy James says people are making a fortune off of.

“DHR is paying, it’s approximately $315 a day to warehouse these children in these horrible facilities,” James said.

James is representing a client who was placed in one of these facilities, who nearly took his own life.

“He was beaten so badly within the matter of a couple of days that he attempted to kill himself. I’ve had cases over the years with over half of them. So if I’ve had that many cases with these facilities for abuse and neglect, it’s obviously a problem,” James explained.

James says Governor Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall shouldn’t wait for a lawsuit to step in.

“It should be the highest priority of our elected officials to provide safety to our most vulnerable citizens. And that should be done. That should be done yesterday,” he said.

We reached out to DHR for a comment Friday.

A representative says they are aware of the lawsuit but have not been officially served.

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