- Associated Press - Monday, January 8, 2018

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island has agreed to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit that alleges systemic abuse and neglect of the nearly 2,000 children living in state custody.

State officials and the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Rights on Monday announced the settlement of the lawsuit first filed in 2007.

Both sides hailed the deal, with Democratic Attorney General Peter Kilmartin saying it puts the well-being and safety of children first. Sara Bartosz, of Children’s Rights, applauded Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Department of Children, Youth and Families Director Trista Piccola for entering into what she called a historic agreement.

“On behalf of the children we represent, we are gratified that all parties have come to the table with the vital purpose of transforming young lives,” Bartosz said.

Kilmartin said the agreement would create measurable targets and “serve as a roadmap for the improvement of DCYF and its care of children.”

Under the terms of the settlement, DCYF must meet a number of new requirements. For example, it is barred from placing children in short-term shelters. It also agrees to put children in group homes or residential treatment centers only when they need that level of care.

The agency also agreed to strive to place siblings together. Caseworkers must also visit children at least once a month.

The agreement also sets out requirements for assessments, as well as developing a system to track parent-child visits. The state also agreed to develop a recruiting and retention plan for foster families, reassess base rates for foster care maintenance payments and meet other requirements.

Rhode Island’s child advocate and an outside expert will provide independent review of the state’s progress, and the child advocate will determine whether the state is meetings its obligations under the terms of the deal.

The agreement has been submitted to a federal judge for approval.

The lawsuit was filed after the 2004 death of 3-year-old Thomas “T.J.” Wright, who was fatally beaten in the custody of his aunt and her live-in boyfriend in a case that raised questions about how foster parents are screened.

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