LS010042In Florida, two hundred children are currently living in nursing homes. These children grow up away from their parents and siblings, away from school and their community. They are deprived of a childhood, surrounded by people decades older than them. Health care policies in Florida and money being invested in institutionalized care rather than in home services have given parents no choice but to place their children with disabilities in nursing homes.

This is not just tragic, it is against the law. On July 22, the United States Department of Justice sued the State of Florida for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Olmstead court decision. The ADA and Olmstead prohibits segregation of people with disabilities and requires that supports and services be given in the most integrated setting possible.

The Department of Justice conducted an investigation into Florida’s practice of institutionalizing children in nursing homes last September. They found that these children are unnecessarily segregated, and with the right supports would do better living at home with their family. Children who live in nursing homes are not given age appropriate stimulation, nor opportunities for growth or an adequate education. Many children are not taken out of the nursing facilities to attend school, and only receive up to forty-five minutes a day of learning opportunities. They are rarely able to leave the facility, and only are able to interact with the staff, elderly, and others with disabilities. Oftentimes, their families live on the other side of the state, hundreds of miles away. Mothers and fathers have to drive for hours to visit their children every couple of weeks.

The payoff is supposed to be that these children receive the medical services they need. But many times, that is not the case. The Department of Justice found that at some facilities, children are not seen by their doctor for months at a time.

In Florida, nursing homes are not temporary solutions for children with medically complex conditions. It is not unusual for children to spend years living in nursing homes; in fact, the average amount of time these children spend in nursing homes is over three years. There have been cases of children spending their entire childhood in a nursing home.

Parents want their children to come home, but Florida has not provided them with the necessary supports. Though it costs less for children to be provided with in-home care, Florida has refused money from the federal government to provide in home services, cut spending on existing in home services, and instead invested more money in institutionalization. Florida has increased their funding for pediatric nursing home spaces by 30 percent, while cutting in home nursing services by $6 million. Furthermore, in 2011, the state refused $40 million from the federal government to start transitioning children out of nursing homes and institutions.

Though many of the children are prescribed by their physicians to receive at home care, the state’s Medicaid policy reduces the hours of in home services over time, and tells families that they will not get the same services they would in an institution. Though there are 200 children currently living in nursing homes, according to an earlier lawsuit filed by Attorney Matthew Dietz, over 3,300 children are at risk of being forced into nursing homes because of the lack of in home services.

Florida has discriminated against children with disabilities and their families by showing indifference to their mental and emotional health, their right to live in the community, and their right to receive an equal education. All children deserve to live at home with their families and receive the care and support they need.