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Lawsuit accusing NC of warehousing foster kids in psych facilities survives challenge

Virginia Bridges and Ames Alexander, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Parenting News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A lawsuit accusing North Carolina officials of unnecessarily warehousing foster children in locked psychiatric facilities has survived the Department of Health and Human Services’ effort to dismiss the case.

The federal complaint contends that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services discriminates against hundreds of North Carolina foster kids with disabilities by warehousing them for extended periods of time in short-term psychiatric residential treatment facilities.

“Often they have unnecessarily spent much of their childhood languishing in these facilities, despite yearning to be in the community,” states the complaint, filed on behalf of five youth in foster care, including children who were in the custody of Durham and Mecklenburg counties.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status representing all foster youth in the facilities or those at risk of being sent to one. It asks the court to order DHHS to increase community-based placements for the children, to transition youth held in them now, and to develop policies to protect children from being sent to facilities in the future.

Additional plaintiffs include Disability Rights North Carolina and the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP. The lawsuit was filed against DHHS and its secretary, Kody Kinsley.

In an order signed March 29, U.S. District Judge William Osteen denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He denied arguments from the state that included inadequate availability of community-based services, plaintiffs not having proper legal standing and court hearings that sent the children to the facilities.


The treatment and services that youth received was “at best, inadequate, and, at worst, highly abusive,” the judge wrote when outlining the youths’ evidence in his decision.

More than 500 children across the state were held in the facilities as of November 2021, states the lawsuit, which was filed in 2022.

Reporting by the USA TODAY North Carolina Network in 2021, which McClatchy newspapers and other newsrooms also published, documented that North Carolina officials were sending foster children to locked psychiatric centers.

DHHS: ‘We want kids in homes’


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