By Ryan Yousefi
The families of children with disabilities in Florida have achieved a significant victory in a court case regarding the resources provided by the state. The aim is to ensure that placing a child in a facility is not the only option for their care but rather the last resort.
On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida announced it had determined that the State of Florida has been violating the rights of children with disabilities by institutionalizing them in nursing facilities without providing proper alternative options for them to be cared for at home.
The court’s decision came after a two-week bench trial and emphasizes the importance of community integration and provides a significant victory for children with disabilities and their families.
For Broward County residents, the ruling means families of those with disabilities will now have additional options outside of placing their children in group homes, such as the Broward Children’s Center located in Pompano Beach, and outsourced teen-focused programs, such as Turning Winds, that accepts children from Coral Springs.
After hearing testimonies from experts and family members, the court concluded that children with complex medical needs currently placed in nursing facilities are fully capable of living in the community with proper resources provided.
“This important ruling will help Florida families of disabled children keep and care for their children at home by requiring increased access to medical support and services,” said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida in a press release.
“We look forward to seeing the systematic changes in Florida needed to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of children with complex medical needs.”
The Department of Justice states in the press release that 140 children with disabilities are currently housed in pediatric nursing homes in Florida, with countless more on the verge of being institutionalized without proper resources to ensure they may be cared for at home.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, the court also recognized that parents and guardians overwhelmingly desire for their children to live at home but have been deprived of meaningful alternatives to institutional placement.
During the trial, families detailed their struggles in attempting to keep their children at home in the face of what they repeatedly described during testimonies as a lack of resources.
Sadly, several family members told a similar story during court proceedings of how they had no choice but to place their children in nursing homes because they could not access the necessary support.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division hailed the decision as monumental, asserting that it will profoundly impact hundreds of vulnerable children and their families.
“This is a momentous decision impacting hundreds of vulnerable children and their families,” said Clarke.
“The court’s ruling sends a clear message that children with complex medical needs deserve to grow up with the love and support of their families and should not be confined to nursing facilities where they are stripped apart from their communities.”
As a result of the court’s recent ruling, the state is now required to develop transition plans for institutionalized children and engage families in decision-making regarding their children’s living arrangements.
- Ryan Yousefi has lived in Coral Springs for over 30 years. He has worked as a writer for multiple outlets over the years, including the Miami New Times where he has covered sports and culture since 2013. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Business Healthcare Management from Western Governors University.
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