In a Madison County circuit court, a civil lawsuit has been filed against Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) director Nancy Buckner and others.
Madison-based Kids to Love, an organization that serves children living in foster care, operates its own foster home for girls aging out of foster care and places children with families.
It filed suit against several DHR employees. The employees are DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner, deputy commissioner of quality Shae Cobb England, deputy commissioner of family services Karen Smith and director of children and family services Amanda Mancuso.
The lawsuit lists the employees both in their official capacities and individually.
Kids to Love was granted a temporary restraining order to lift a suspension on placement referrals to the program. Attorney Patrick Hill, representing Kids to Love, told 1819 News the suspension of Kids to Love by DHR was unnecessary.
It was supposed to lift the referrals, but Hill said he was unaware of any new placements that have been made.
"We are getting reports of children who are having to sleep on the floor of Department of Human Resources Offices rather than have a bed to lay their head down at night," said Hall. "And so, in the past 90 days since the suspension of referrals to Kids to Love, we have had multiple incidents of children having to sleep on floors and sibling groups being split up."
Kids to Love founder Lee Marshall confirmed no referrals have been made since the temporary restraining order has been put into place.
According to court documents, it all started when DHR suspended Kids to Love from placements on June 15 for allegedly violating HIPPA laws. The organization posted information about children needing adoptive homes on its website, as it has for nearly 20 years. Kids to Love claims to have been operating under a confidentiality agreement since 2006. After trying to get more information from DHR on why they were being suspended, Marshall said no response was given with details or remedies.
"Kids to Love and Ms. Marshall are trying to do everything they can to make sure that foster children are taken care of in this state," Hill said. "Ms. Marshall believes that the way to do that right now is to stand up to DHR."
Marshall said that as a former foster care child, she is passionate about her cause and wants to do what's best for children in Alabama.
"This is my calling and my passion," she told 1819 News. "We do a lot of things for children in foster care, and for years, we have tried to work with the system to change the system. We don't take state or federal funding, so they may try to bully us in different ways, but we don't fall to that because we don't take their money, and they don't fund us."
DHR claimed it notified Kids to Love of information that needed to be removed because it was "confidential, embarrassing and disparaging to the minor child." However, Kids to Love claimed DHR never told them which child they were referring to and said all information posted online about children came directly from DHR.
An unrelated DHR case in Crenshaw County gave Kids to Love representatives a clue as to which case DHR was referring to when they said information was shared about a child that should not have been revealed. A filing in the case explained that a posting about the child contained information about the child's IQ. When attorneys for Kids to Love saw that filing, they realized that was the posting DHR was unhappy with, and they removed the posting from the Kids to Love website.
Kids to Love has since removed all photos and information of all children up for adoption.
Although the judge granted the temporary restraining order, Kids to Love is now asking for the relationship to be restored permanently so that more children can have a place to go.
"The ban on placement referrals to Kids to Love foster families injures those families that have gone through rigorous training and background checks to become licensed foster parents only to have the Department ban placements of children with them and threaten to remove the children they are fostering because of the suspension of referrals to Kids to Love," the lawsuit states.
It adds, "The Department's concentrated efforts to systematically remove children from Kids to Love placements, force foster families to be licensed through the Department, disallow Kids to Love to search for adoptive families for children will cause irreparable injury, loss, and damage to Lee Marshall, Kids to Love Organization, the children in its care, the foster families licensed through Kids to Love; and will cause irreparable damage to the Organization's reputation in the community that supports its sole mission of serving children in foster care."
Attorneys for DHR claim Kids to Love has violated confidentiality obligations and denied all claims against them.
Kids to Love claims that DHR has filed notices in several juvenile courts about restricted placements. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday.
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