Child Welfare Advocates Clash Over Rhode Island

With Rhode Island’s child welfare system facing a lawsuit by one advocacy group, another advocate has taken aim at both the state and the plaintiff.

Richard Wexler, head of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, held a news conference in Rhode Island Thursday to issue a 64-page report calling the state “the child warehousing capital of America.” The report, State of Denial: Why Rhode Island’s Child Welfare System is so Dismal – and How to Make it Better, says the state removes children from their homes 80 percent more frequently than the national average, and places them in the poorest of group homes and institutional care.

Children’s Rights, a New York-based advocacy group, also believes Rhode Island’s child welfare system is a mess, and in 2007 joined a class action lawsuit by the state’s child advocate, Jametta Alston, against the state Department of Children, Youth and Families in an effort to force reforms. In June, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit, which had been thrown out by a lower court. The case is now awaiting reassignment to a judge.

Wexler charged that reforms pushed by Children’s Rights in other states rely too heavily on continuing to remove children from their homes, and that any settlement in Rhode Island would probably “exacerbate” that practice. He called for a settlement emphasizing “safe, proven alternatives to taking away so many children in the first place.” 

Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights, replied via e-mail that Wexler’s report “identifies issues we have been trying to get Rhode Island officials to address” through the lawsuit, including “the growing number of children placed in large, unsafe institutional settings.” She said lawsuits by Children’s Rights in other states led to changes that include reducing foster care populations.

The nonprofit National Coalition for Child Protection Reform advocates alternatives to removing children from their homes. The nonprofit Children’s Rights has brought class actions lawsuits against several states to reform their child welfare systems.



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