9 Investigates: Florida's care for its most severely disabled children

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FLORIDA - A scathing new review has found that state officials routinely warehouse medically needy kids, sometimes holding them in geriatric nursing homes for years.

Investigative reporter George Spencer learned that once those children are in the homes, they may suffer.

Amy Root, 11, was hit by a car outside her mother's Edgewater home.

"She requires total assistance. All day, all night," said Amy's mother, Sue Root.

Amy can no longer walk, talk or eat without help.

Earlier this year, officials cut the family's state-paid nursing hours, creating fear that Amy could be forced into the cheaper option: a nursing home for the elderly.

"I can only do this alone for so long, without significant help," she said.

A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice to Florida's attorney general indicates her fears may be real.

The letter reads that Florida "fails to meet its obligations" under federal laws by unnecessarily institutionalizing hundreds of children with disabilities in nursing facilities.

Investigators visited nursing homes across Florida, including an Orlando Facility.

They repeatedly found disabled kids living segregated lives, sometimes for decades and getting little interaction with other kids. They also found the children received little education and a small chance to return home.

The letter also states that the situation "violates [the children's] civil rights."

"I think the state has a responsibility to help the parents that want their children to be home," said Sue Root.

The state fully rejects the claims, calling them "unfounded."

Officials at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration said, "The agency will never interfere with a family's choice for the location of their child's care."

The Root family is now plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the state.

The lawsuit highlights concerns that are very similar to those in the justice department's letter.

After appealing, the Roots' currently get 20 hours of nursing care a day for Amy.

It's not clear whether the U.S. Department of Justice's review will prompt changes, since the state argues strong checks and balances are already in place.