Durham Department of Social Services sued for institutionalizing disabled toddler

The Durham County Department of Social Services violated the rights of a toddler by sending the 16-month old to a treatment facility more than 100 miles away from home, alleges a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

The lawsuit, filed by the advocacy group Disability Rights NC, claims that DSS has failed to prioritize at-home Medicaid services required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Placing children with disabilities in institutions far from their home communities behind ‘the shameful wall of exclusion’ is disability-based discrimination,” the complaint stated that DSS deprived the child of the opportunity to form connections with his caregivers.

According to the complaint, the child was born in April 2020 with conditions affecting kidney, trachea, and blood pressure. He remained at the hospital for another eight months. Then the Durham DSS petitioned for and was later granted custody of him. In May 2021, he was transferred to the Tar River facility, an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The Tar River facility is an institution according to federal classification. Pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held unnecessary institutionalization discriminatory and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability Rights NC protested his institutionalization, saying that the child should stay in the community.

Holly Stiles, litigation counsel for Disability Rights NC

Disability Rights argued in the complaint that Durham DSS had failed to utilize community-based treatment alternatives including the Medicaid-funded service Community Alternatives Program for Children.

“Child welfare agencies like Durham County DSS must prefer and prioritize home and community-based services, including for children with disabilities in its care,” Holly Stiles, litigation counsel for Disability Rights NC and lead attorney of the case said in a press release. “Children deserve families and homes, not just beds.”

Disability Rights NC is demanding a jury trial.

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