Durham County Sued for Discrimination for Institutionalization of Toddler with Disability

For Immediate Release
August 24, 2021

Raleigh, NC – The institutionalization of a toddler with a disability by Durham County Department of Social Services (DSS) is discriminatory and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a lawsuit filed on August 24, 2021 by Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC). The lawsuit, filed in the federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges that Durham County DSS failed to obtain Medicaid services that would provide care for the child at home. Instead, Durham County DSS sent the child to a facility over 100 miles away in Greenville, N.C. The child has been in the custody of Durham County DSS since January of this year.

More than two decades ago, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark Olmstead decision requiring that public entities, like Durham County DSS, prioritize providing services to people with disabilities at home and in the community over institutional care. The state of North Carolina offers an array of home and community-based services for children and adults with disabilities. The goal of these services is specifically aimed at keeping people with disabilities in their own home or community and out of institutions or other isolated settings. Durham County DSS failed to obtain these services for the child in its custody.

Congress recently passed legislation making it clear that child welfare services in particular should not be delivered in institutions. The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 refocuses child welfare spending on preventative services and limits the ability of child welfare agencies to seek federal reimbursement for placing children, regardless of disability, in congregate care settings. The legislation also promotes trauma-informed practices and the provision of evidence-based services by child welfare agencies. In other words, child welfare services must focus on families, not facilities.

“It is clear that the best environment for children is at home in their communities, a fundamental principle that is confirmed by the research about child well-being” said Holly Stiles, litigation counsel for Disability Rights NC. “We cannot tolerate anything less for the most vulnerable children. Child welfare agencies like Durham County DSS must prefer and prioritize home and community-based services, including for children with disabilities in its care. Children deserve families and homes, not just beds.”

Complaint filed 8.24.21 Z.S. v. Durham County

About Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages, statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at disabilityrightsnc.org.

DRNC Litigation Counsel Holly Stiles

DRNC Legal Director Emma Kinyanjui