Jametta Alston Fights for Children in Foster Care

Jametta Alston was our city solicitor here in Cranston before she was ousted due to a city charter rule stating that the city solicitor must live in the city. Now she is our Child Advocate here in Rhode Island, and she is doing a bang-up job of calling attention to the issue children’s safety while they are in state care. From the Projo:

PROVIDENCE — Children in state foster care are being neglected, molested, beaten, burned with cigarettes and, in one high-profile case, killed, according to a sweeping civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court by the state child advocate, backed by a national watchdog group.

Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston is pursuing class-action status on behalf of the 3,000 children now in state custody, aiming for nothing less than an overhaul of Rhode Island’s child-welfare system, which the suit portrays as overburdened and mismanaged.

“It’s beyond broken,� Alston said of the system. “It’s demolished. It doesn’t work.�

Rhode Island was the worst in the nation in the number of children abused and neglected while in state foster care in five of the six years between 2000 and 2005, according to the suit. “We beat Mississippi and Alabama,� Alston said. “Think about that.�

The suit claims state caseworkers are laboring under “excessive caseloads�; the state places too many children in institutions, group homes and emergency shelters; and children are being “reunited� with parents who have abused them.

Rhode Island has known about the systemic problems for years, the suit claims, citing critical reports dating to 2003.

For example, Alston issued a report in 2005 saying the state Department of Children Youth and Families missed at least five opportunities to rescue Thomas J. “T.J.� Wright, a 3-year-old boy who was beaten to death by his foster parents in Woonsocket. Alston issued another report in 2006, saying the state had failed to make some of the most important changes that a review panel called for following T.J.’s death. Mostly notably, the state had not held caseloads to recommended levels.

“This, to me, is a last resort,� Alston said of the suit. “But I hope, I pray, we will change the system of how we protect our children, and not just put on a Band-Aid.�

In the past, the state has faced court orders aimed at eliminating “night-to-night placements,� in which children in state care don’t know from one night to the next where they will sleep. But this suit addresses the entire system. “Let’s not look at a symptom of the problem,� Alston said. “Let’s look at the whole disease.�

Alston is suing the governor who appointed her child advocate in 2005. “That’s the strength of the office of child advocate,� she said. “I may be appointed by the governor, but I’m not in his cabinet. The only loyalty I have is one I gladly embrace — the children.�

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