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Horrific Abuse Alleged in Mass. Foster Care

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CN) - Massachusetts routinely violated the constitutional rights of foster children by placing them in life-threatening situations, six children say in a federal class action. The children's attorneys, New York-based Children's Rights, says children in foster care in Massachusetts are abused at nearly four times the national rate.

Children's Rights says 8,500 children are in foster care statewide.

Among the horror stories detailed in the 78-page complaint are those of Dontel Jeffers, who died at 4, allegedly after his foster mother tied him to a radiator and kicked him until his bladder burst; Acia Johnson, who died at 14, allegedly after her mother's boyfriend lit their house on fire; Isaiah Barboza, 4, who was hospitalized for second-degree burns from being scalded with boiling water; and an unidentified 4-year-old, who needed skin graft surgery after his foster bother burned him with a hair-straightening iron.

The complaint claims that this horrific abuse is often only the beginning of the dangers to which the children are exposed. In many cases, children are further harmed by being shuttled between foster homes.

Among these sufferers is named plaintiff Connor B., 9, who was sexually abused in his first foster care placement and has since been moved at least six times, according to the complaint. Connor B. also spent 4½ months in a locked psychiatric unit when he was 6, the complaint states.

The attorneys say children are placed in foster homes that the state fails to monitor, and that this practice has been common for decades.

Children's Rights seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from continuing to violate the children's rights under the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare act of 1980.

It also seeks remedial relief limiting the caseload of foster care case workers, enhanced education and training, a top-to-bottom review of the state's child-care system to determine the need for additional services and placements, stepped up monitoring of the safety of children in foster care placements, and creation of a new child-parent and sibling visitation program, and other measures.

Named as defendants are Gov. Deval Patrick, state Health and Human Services Secretary Judyann Bigby, and Angelo McClain, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

Lead attorneys for the class are Marcia Robinson Lowry with Children's Rights of New York, N.Y., and Daniel Gleason with Nutter, McClennen & Fish of Boston.

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