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GAO Files Lawsuit Seeking to End Institutionalization and Confinement of Children in Georgia

Civil rights attorneys, including GAO staff, filed a class action lawsuit today charging Georgia officials with violating federal law for their well-documented, longstanding failure to provide mandated home and community-based mental health services to thousands of children who experience repeated, prolonged, unnecessary institutionalization and the avoidable harm associated with this confinement.

Official press release here.

Read the complaint here.

As Geron Gadd, a senior attorney with NHeLP, noted, “Thousands of Georgia’s most vulnerable children and young adults are in crisis because the state fails to meet their mental health needs.”
The crisis is well documented. Annual reports issued by Georgia’s Office of the Child Advocate from 2001-2008 repeatedly found services for children with mental health conditions were fragmented, underfunded, and difficult to access or unavailable.
In 2017, the Governor’s Commission for Children’s Mental Health, the Interagency Directors Team, and the Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health acknowledged that “Georgia’s community-based provider system is not prepared to address the behavioral health challenges that are present in the home, school, and community” – a decades-long failing that especially harms children in crisis and those with serious mental health needs and conditions.
“Georgia’s Medicaid program has failed our plaintiffs and the children they represent,” said Kathryn Rucker, senior attorney at CPR. “They are experiencing more harm, more out-of-home placements, and more of them are being relinquished to state custody – and still denied appropriate services.”
When children with serious mental health conditions enter the child welfare system, Georgia’s Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) routinely funnels youth into what former DFCS Director Tom Rawlings calls “deep-end” psychiatric institutions, away from their homes and schools.

Candice Broce, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services and the Director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), a named defendant in the lawsuit, has admitted: “The State’s most vulnerable children cannot access the physical, mental or behavioral health treatment they need—and deserve—in custody or through post-adoptive care.”
Plaintiffs allege violations of the Medicaid Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and seek to compel the state to provide and arrange for medically necessary services in the community and prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of Georgia’s children.

Devon Orland, Legal Director

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