Justice Department Sues Florida over Disabled Children

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The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida, for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA).  These alleged violations affect nearly 200 children.

The children were unnecessarily segregated from their families, and placed in nursing homes.  The DOJ claims they could have been better served in their own homes and own communities.  They added that there are other children in danger of being removed from their homes and placed into institutions.

“The ADA and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. require states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities.  The department’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for affected children.”

The DOJ sent a letter last September notifying the state that it was violating ADA requirements.  The letter stated that Florida was failing to provide necessary community services and support for children with disabilities, resulting in them being institutionalized, or placing them in the possibility of such confinement.

In the letter they also contend that the state’s “screening and transition planning processes have been plagued with deficiencies.”  Children placed in nursing facilities have not been screened in a timely fashion, forcing them to remain institutionalized longer than necessary.

Because of Florida’s action and inaction, children and their families have been forced to face additional pain and trauma.

In the case of one family, the State of Florida failed to provide assistance for them to care for their child in-home.  They could not afford the expenses of the aid required by themselves, and were forced to place him in a nursing-assisted facility.

Another case revealed that a girl was placed in a nursing facility at a very young age, and remained there for six years until the state completed its federally mandated screening.

“Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities.  This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead.  The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”

Since late 2012, the DOJ has met with Florida officials to alleviate the problem.  Although some cases have been addressed, there remain nearly 200 children who continue to be unnecessarily institutionalized.

“The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including state and local governments. The ADA requires public entities to ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”

The DOJ said it saw no alternative other than taking legal action against Florida over their inaction regarding disabled children.

Alfred James reporting

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