Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald R. Lagueux ruled that Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston and others who backed the suit had no authority to proceed because the children they claimed to represent are already in the jurisdiction of the state Family Court, where their guardians had been appointed.
Alston and the child-advocacy organization, Children’s Rights, pursued the suit in June 2007 on behalf of the 3,000 children now in state custody, with the aim to overhaul Rhode Island’s entire foster-care system. The suit alleged children in DCYF care were being molested, beaten and, in one high-profile case, killed. Her suit claimed staff faced excessive caseloads and that too many children were being placed in institutions and group homes, or being reunited with abusive parents.
The suit named Governor Carcieri, Jane Hayward, former secretary of the Office of Health and Human Services, and DCYF Director Patricia Martinez as defendants, and charged that the child-welfare system is underfunded, understaffed and mismanaged.
The state asked that the case be dismissed in January 2008. Lawyers questioned the remedy sought — namely that Alston wanted the court to take control of the DCYF. They argued the case belonged in family court, not federal court.
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Child advocate’s suit over DCYF care dismissed