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Amended lawsuit filed against Rhode Island child welfare agency, alleges gross failings

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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families has egregiously failed children in its care and continues to put them "in harm's way," an advocacy group alleged in filing an amended federal lawsuit Monday.

New-York based Children's Rights filed the complaint as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of some 1,800 children in Rhode Island's foster care system. A federal judge last year dismissed the original lawsuit, but a federal appeals court vacated the judge's decision and sent the case back to the lower court.

The amended complaint said DCYF has not improved its services since the original lawsuit was filed in 2007, and it cited the cases of children it says were abused.

One 9-year-old boy has been in foster care for five years and separated from his siblings, the group says. He was hospitalized after a foster parent was unable to care for him and was sexually abused while in group care. Another child, 11, was placed in a home with a registered sex offender and was sexually abused by a child in another foster home.

The lawsuit said DCYF doesn't limit the number of children who can be assigned to a caseworker; children are placed in unlicensed homes; they aren't able to visit their families; and foster care maintenance payments are "grossly inadequate."

The complaint asked the court to order the state to keep casework to a manageable load, recruit more foster homes and improve payments for foster parents. It also said the state needs consistent licensing and abuse investigation practices.

An audit of DCYF last month revealed lapses in management and financial controls within the agency, which has been plagued for years by budget deficits. Gov. Gina Raimondo, who took office in January and called for the audit, announced afterward the agency will be overhauled. Plans to restructure the department may be completed this fall.

"Sadly, children in Rhode Island foster care today continue to suffer the same harms that led to the initial filing of this case," Sara Bartosz, lead counsel for Children's Rights, said in a news release. "We now intend to secure an enforceable court order assuring that the glaring systemic defects placing children at risk are finally addressed."

The attorney general's office, which represents the department, declined to comment.

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