Ariz. lawsuit claims foster kids lack dental, medical care

Children's advocates have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of thousands of children in foster care in Arizona, claiming a severe shortage of access to healthcare services, including dental care.

The class-action suit was filed February 3 on behalf of more than 16,000 children in state foster care, according to the Children's Rights advocacy group, one of the groups representing the children. The 10 children named in the suit range in age from 3 to 14.

The suit, B.K. v. Flanagan, names the heads of Arizona's Department of Child Safety (DCS) and Department of Health Services as defendants.

The complaint described the plight of an 8-year-old girl who complained of a toothache for months but went without dental care. She also showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse, was separated from her siblings, and put in a group home on an "emergency shelter" basis for two years. The state also ignored her need for glasses, according to the complaint, and she did not get sufficient mental health services, despite saying she was hearing voices and threatened to hurt herself and others.

"This is emblematic of the ongoing dysfunction that plagues DCS and leaves kids at risk," William Kapell, lead counsel for Children's Rights, said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that even one child, already traumatized by being removed from home, would suffer again in the supposed safe haven of foster care."

Aa result of the state’s failure to address and remedy the known and longstanding deficiencies in its child welfare system, plaintiffs have been, and continue to be, exposed to harm and an unreasonable risk of harm, in violation of their federal constitutional and statutory rights, according to the complaint.

In Arizona, 9,418 kids are in foster care, but the state has licensed only 4,397 foster homes, and there are only 5,669 available spaces for these children, leaving 3,749 children without foster homes, the Children's Rights group said. As a result, there are many instances when children sleep in DCS offices because homes aren't available.

In a similar case, two children's advocacy groups recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, claiming widespread deficiencies in the system have endangered thousands of children. The state agency does not provide basic medical, dental, and mental health evaluations, screenings, and treatment as required by law, according to the complaint.

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