Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star 2013

All children living in foster care now or in the future will be counted as parties in a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Child Safety and the state’s Medicaid system.

U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver of Phoenix ordered that the lawsuit, filed in 2015, be changed to what’s called a class action case so children don’t have be named specifically as long as they are foster children.

Attorneys for the children claim Arizona’s treatment of foster children puts them at greater risk of harm than they would be if they were still living with their parents.

“This signals to us that the judge understands what this case is about, that it’s about systemic practices of the two state agencies denying these children their constitutional rights,” said Anne Ronan, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. “This makes it clear that it’s about system reform in the child welfare system.”

The children are being represented through the Phoenix law firm Perkins Coie and two nonprofit child-advocacy groups, the one Ronan works for and New York-based Children’s Rights.

The suit started with 10 foster children in Pima and Maricopa counties and includes allegations about their high number of placements, sibling groups being torn apart and untreated physical and mental health problems. The suit alleges DCS and Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System showed “deliberate indifference to the constitutionally protected rights and liberty and privacy interests” of foster children.

“Today’s decision is not indicative of the court’s position on the merits of the lawsuit,” said Darren DaRonco, a DCS spokesman. “The Department looks forward to articulating the policies implemented over the last three years which have solidified an enduring commitment to ensuring children in state custody receive the care they need and deserve.”

Heidi Capriotti, spokeswoman for AHCCCS, said her department does not comment on pending litigation.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com.