Settlement Agreement Reached with Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families to Address Discrimination Against Parents with Disabilities

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has agreed to resolve alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. DCYF is a state agency responsible for child welfare services, juvenile corrections, and children’s behavioral health services.

The investigation was opened after the U.S. Attorney’s Office and HHS received multiple complaints from parents with disabilities. Three complaints alleged that DCYF failed to provide sign language interpreter services to parents who are deaf during DCYF child protection investigations, including when DCYF removed their children from their homes. A fourth complaint alleged that DCYF based conclusions about the parental capacity on a parent’s disabilities (epilepsy and intellectual disabilities) and failed to provide reasonable modifications to the parent’s plan. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and HHS investigated and concluded that DCYF may not have taken appropriate steps to ensure for effective communication with parents and caretakers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, the investigation indicated that DCYF lacked sufficient policies, procedures, and related training to ensure that DCYF fulfills its obligations under federal civil rights laws to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to access to DCYF’s services because of disability.

Under the terms of the agreement, DCYF will, among other things, create and implement a policy on how it will communicate effectively with individuals who have communication disabilities including individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. In addition, it will ensure sufficient contracts with qualified interpreting services, provide training to all personnel on federal civil rights laws and accommodations for individuals with disabilities, designate an ADA coordinator, and report quarterly for three years.

“Eliminating disability discrimination is important in any context,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha, “but nowhere more so than when interactions that affect the integrity and unity of families are on the line. We are pleased that, as a result of today’s settlement, DYCF is committing to meet its obligations to remove barriers to full and appropriate service in these critical encounters, regardless of disability.”

“Recipients of federal financial assistance, like state agencies that provide child welfare and other services, have a fundamental responsibility under law to take necessary steps to eliminate unnecessary barriers for those who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said OCR Director Lisa Pino. “This agreement sends an important message to organizations to examine and update their policies, procedures, and training programs to fulfil their obligations to those that they serve.”

This matter was handled jointly by Assistant United States Attorney Amy R. Romero and HHS Investigator Timothy Stark.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island is committed to investigating alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Department of Justice has a number of publications available to assist entities in complying with the ADA. For more information on the ADA and to access these publications, visit www.ada.gov or call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

Any member of the public who wishes to file a complaint alleging a public entity or public accommodation in Rhode Island is not accessible to persons with disabilities may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at  https://www.justice.gov/usao-ri/civil-rights-enforcement or 401-709-5000.

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