(CN) - Florida's state-run foster care program is so overtaxed in two South Florida counties that infants and toddlers are frequently moved dozens of times between the scant number of homes available and some are even placed in psych wards because the state has no other place to house them, a federal lawsuit claims.
In a complaint filed in the Tallahassee Federal Court on Tuesday, seven plaintiffs identified only by their initials, claim the Florida Department of Children and Families fails to maintain a remotely adequate number of foster homes and other placements for the children in need in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in South Florida, and as a result these children are deprived of a stable environment in which to grow up.
"Children are often moved 10, 20, 30, or more times in a short period," the complaint says. "Infants and toddlers are warehoused in emergency shelters and group homes, robbing them of a family-like environment.
It continues: "Children who have no clinical need are kept for months locked in psychiatric facilities solely because DCF has no other place to house them. Still others are housed 'night to night' – kept in an agency office until late at night with little more than the clothes on their back, housed overnight wherever there’s an empty bed and scooped up by a caseworker the next morning, only to repeat the cycle night after night."
As a result of these practices, the plaintiffs claim, the state of Florida routinely fails to identify or treat the mental health needs of the children, and actually exacerbates their problems.
According to the complaint, these failures of the foster care system cause not only emotional and psychological harm, but also physical harm as these children’s brains are not allowed to properly develop.
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief and asks the court to compel Department of Children and Families officials to assess the true needs of children in its care in the affected counties, phase out and ultimately cease the "any nonfamily placements" for children in the program, and individual assessments of the children by qualified professionals.
Representatives of Florida Department of Children and Families did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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