The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) discriminates against foster children and youth with mental impairments by unnecessarily segregating them in restrictive, psychiatric residential treatment facilities and by denying them an opportunity to grow up in loving homes and community-based settings.
Along with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and Children’s Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four teens with mental impairments placed in or at risk of placement in these restrictive settings. This population is disproportionately Black. DHR has left many children to languish in these facilities for years, despite a medical recommendation that they are ready to be placed in a home. Rather than developing an adequate network of supports and services, DHR often shuffles these children from facility to facility, further isolating them from their families, friends, schools and communities, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit targets these placements as violations of DHR’s obligation under federal laws to administer its services, programs and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to meet the needs of the children in its care. Children segregated into these institutional settings are less likely to achieve permanency and are more likely to age out of the foster care system without the appropriate community-based care needed for a successful transition to adulthood.
In a 2020 letter, the groups urged state leaders to make sweeping changes to protect foster children placed in facilities run by Sequel Youth and Family Services, after documenting unsanitary conditions and widespread abuse of youth at these facilities. The complaint describes numerous reports of violence against children in facilities across the state, including staff slamming children against walls, punching and slapping children in the face, using chokeholds and laying on top of children who are being held face down on the ground, causing serious and life-threatening injuries.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring DHR to immediately change its policies and practices to ensure that no foster child is unnecessarily placed in these draconian facilities. Advocates also want to ensure children in DHR custody have access to appropriate community-based services, supports and placements, including an adequate number of therapeutic foster homes, among other changes.