October 25, 2017
OCR Addresses National Origin Discrimination in Alabama Child Welfare Programs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Alabama Department of Human Resources (ADHR). The Agreement resolves a finding that ADHR administered its Child Welfare Programs (CWP) in a manner that had the effect of delaying or denying access to its programs and services on the basis of nation origin, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). As a recipient of Federal financial assistance from HHS, ADHR is subject to Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Under Title VI, recipients must take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to their programs for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).
The U.S. Department of Justice referred a report to OCR that ADHR’s CWP discriminated against a Guatemalan father engaged in a parental rights case because he was unable to speak English. The Akateco-speaking father was attempting reunification with his daughter who had been placed in foster care by ADHR after the death of his wife. Under Title VI, ADHR is required to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to its programs by persons with LEP and is otherwise prohibited from discriminating against persons on the basis of their national origin. OCR determined that ADHR was required by Federal law and its own policies to provide services to help the father attempt reunification with his daughter. OCR’s investigation found that the father’s LEP was a significant factor in ADHR’s failure to provide timely language assistance and other services essential for reunification. Additionally, OCR’s investigation found that ADHR consistently failed to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to its programs by Latino persons with LEP. Thus, OCR determined that ADHR administered its programs in a manner that had the effect of delaying or denying access to its programs and services on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI.
“Separating families can lead to irreversible loss of parental rights and trauma to children. It is critical that child welfare agencies administer their programs in accordance with laws designed to protect the rights of all family members to ensure family unity when possible, without regard to their race, color or national origin,” said Director Roger Severino, OCR. “OCR remains committed to this basic principle of civil rights and will enforce the laws and protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Under the settlement agreement with OCR, ADHR affirms it will: comply with Title VI; train staff on Title VI compliance; and provide competent language assistance at no cost and in a timely manner to persons with LEP. These and other commitments will help to ensure persons with LEP have meaningful access to the full range of programs, services and benefits administered by CWP. Additionally, ADHR will update its Family Services policies and procedures, and pending OCR’s review, publish them appropriately.
OCR enforces civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, religion or conscience.
A copy of the Agreement can be found at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ADHR-agreement.pdf.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
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