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Last week, the state’s highest court decided that children who are in foster care can not only individually sue the city’s child welfare agency, but can be awarded monetary damages if the agency fails to keep them safe and provide them with basic necessities.

These “basic necessities,” said the court, include giving children essential counseling services and making sure they don’t get bounced around from home to home unnecessarily.

The case, Mark G. v. Sabol, was filed initially as a class-action lawsuit in the mid-1980s by the legal firm that led the recent Marisol suit, Children’s Rights, Inc. While the decision does not actually conclude the lawsuit, it for the first time legally recognizes an individual child’s ability to get awarded money as compensation for injuries suffered while in foster care, setting an important legal precedent.

Attorneys in both the Legal Aid Society and in private practice specializing in child welfare cases weren’t yet quite sure what the ruling might mean for the thousands of children in foster care, or for the agency that runs the system in New York City, the Administration for Children’s Services.

But attorney Susan Lambiase, Associate Director at Children’s Rights, Inc., who worked on the case, welcomed the decision as a new legal recourse for children in the foster care system. “The highest court in the state is saying that a constitutional case against a child welfare agency can go ahead on behalf of individual children,” she said.

An ACS spokesperson said Friday that the agency had not yet reviewed the decision, and had no comment.

The case was initially filed on behalf of 11 children and the estate of a 12th child. But this decision comes too late to help many of the original petitioners. Today, more than 10 years later, one of the kids has died in foster care and the others have “aged out” of the system.

This news brief is from Child Welfare Watch, written by research director Shalini Ahuja.

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