DOJ slams Florida’s services for children with disabilities

The Department of Justice released September 4 the results of its investigation into Florida’s housing services for children with disabilities, finding that the state is failing in its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide services for people to live in integrated settings.

“Hundreds of children are currently segregating in nursing facilities through Florida,” the DOJ stated in its findings letter. “They are growing apart from their families in hospital-like settings, among elderly nursing facility residents and other individuals with disabilities.

“They live segregated lives — having few opportunities to interact with children and young adults without disabilities or to experience many of the social, educational and recreational activities that are critical to child development.”

For years, the DOJ found, the state has provided perverse incentives that force parents to send their children to these institutional-like settings to receive medically necessary services.

For the children in the nursing facilities, the DOJ found “few examples of concrete efforts” by the state to identify services that would allow them to move back into their homes. More than 50 children have been stuck in these settings for more than 5 years, with the average stay at more than three years.

Likewise, the state continues to scale back its Medicaid-funded home-and-community-based waivers services that allow children to remain in their homes. During the past decade, the state’s waiting list for these services has ballooned to more than 20,000 people, half of whom have been waiting for longer than five years.

Meanwhile, the state in 2011 cut its Medicaid-funded payment rates to community-based providers by 15 percent, while subsequently increasing the rate for providers in the nursing homes.

“The State must increase community capacity by allotting individual waiver slots, amending existing policies, and expanding other community services to service children in or at risk of entering nursing facilities…The State must also implement a clear plan to ensure that children currently institutionalized in nursing facilities are provided the opportunity to receive services in more integrated settings,” the DOJ stated.