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Oklahoma Press Releases

NEUTRAL EXPERTS FIND STATE STILL FALLS SHORT IN ACHIEVING NECESSARY REFORM OF OKLAHOMA’S FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM (10.15.15)

NEUTRAL EXPERTS FIND STATE STILL FALLS SHORT IN ACHIEVING NECESSARY REFORM OF OKLAHOMA’S FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM

Most recent findings make it likely that the court-ordered settlement will be extended at least another year.

D.G. v. Yarbrough, Case No. 08-cv-074-GKF, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma

Almost four years into an intended five-year period to implement the State of Oklahoma’s court-ordered foster-care reform plan, the national experts charged with monitoring the state’s progress have found the state stills falls short in making necessary progress in key areas.

Under the court-approved settlement entered in January, 2012, the three-child welfare experts, called “Co-Neutrals,” have the responsibility for approving the state’s strategies for addressing necessary reforms in seven key performance areas affecting the well-being of Oklahoma children in foster care and to determine whether the state is making good-faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward each of the Target Outcomes set by the experts. The Co-Neutrals issue periodic reports on the state’s progress. The settlement governing the state’s obligations was negotiated as the result of a federal civil-rights lawsuit, D.G. v. Yarbrough, charging the state with violating the constitutional rights of foster children in Oklahoma’s foster-care system.

In the latest report, called a Commentary and issued by the expert group on Oct. 14th, the experts found that although some aspects of the system have improved, notably worker caseloads and the state’s plan to close the two public shelters, many others had not, despite the more than three years the state has had to develop and implement strategies necessary to protect children.

The experts found the state has failed to make good-faith efforts in:

  • Lowering the rate at which children are maltreated;
  • Developing desperately needed therapeutic foster homes;
  • Lowering the number of older children housed in shelters; and
  • Placing foster children in permanent homes.

Under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the state is required to have made good-faith efforts to meet the targets set by the experts and maintain those targets for at least two years prior to December 15, 2016. If the state fails to do so, the Settlement Agreement is extended.

“With the Co-Neutrals’ most recent finding, it appears that the state cannot meet the terms of the two-year maintenance test in the Settlement Agreement by the 2016 target date and that the Settlement Agreement will be extended for at least another year beyond 2016,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood, the nonprofit advocacy group which represents the plaintiff children, along with cocounsel Fred Dorwart, of the Tulsa law firm of Frederic Dorwart Lawyers.

“We hope that the state will use this extra time to rethink the strategies that have not been working so far, to develop a real sense of urgency to provide adequate protection for these children, examine where its management efforts continue to fail, and to build a durable child-welfare system that will provide these vulnerable children with what Oklahoma has denied them for far too long. Though the state has failed the two-year requirement to exit the Settlement Agreement, the reduction of worker caseloads is positive, and it is our hope similar progress can be achieved in other key areas,” said Fred Dorwart. “Until that happens, our foster kids remain at risk.”

Also pending before the Co-Neutrals is the plaintiffs’ request for the Co-Neutrals to exercise their authority under the Settlement Agreement and direct the state to take specific actions to speed up implementation of the reforms in which the Co-Neutrals have found lack of good-faith efforts. That matter is currently under consideration by the Co-Neutrals.

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, has been lead counsel in the D.G. v. Yarbrough lawsuit since the case was filed in 2008.

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Co-Neutral Commentary Five

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

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Mississippi Press Releases

STATE ACKNOWLEDGES NONCOMPLIANCE WITH COURT ORDERS IN LONG-STANDING FOSTER-CARE LAWSUIT (07.23.15)

STATE ACKNOWLEDGES NONCOMPLIANCE WITH COURT ORDERS IN LONG-STANDING FOSTER-CARE LAWSUIT

Governor agrees to hire new Executive Director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services, which will become a cabinet-level position, and a consulting group to recommend the changes necessary to protect Mississippi children.

Olivia Y. v. Bryant, Case No. 3:04-CV-251-LN, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division

Facing an evidentiary hearing for contempt scheduled to begin in federal court on August 10, the state has conceded that it did not meet court-ordered requirements in the 7-year-old lawsuit Olivia Y. v. Bryant intended to reform the state’s foster-care system.

In an Agreed Order signed by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee on July 23, 2015, the state agreed with factual charges made against it in reports submitted by the court-appointed monitor. In the Order, the parties also agreed on steps that will determine whether the plaintiffs will continue to seek a receivership, this time based on specific recommendations from a neutral consulting group, or whether the state can and will make the changes necessary to finally reform the Mississippi foster care system.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are all of the children in foster care in the state, had asked the court to find the state in contempt of the court orders for reform, and to appoint a receiver to take over the administration of the state’s foster-care system. The state’s admission of noncompliance resolves the first part of the contempt motion. The Order signed by the court today directs the employment of an expert group to make recommendations to achieve compliance and leaves open the question whether a receiver will be required to administer the state’s foster-care system.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004, asserting widespread violations of children’s constitutional rights in the foster-care system. Although the case was settled in 2008, the state has never been in compliance with the terms of the settlement.

This is the second contempt motion filed in the case. After the first motion, a new settlement agreement was approved by the Court but failed to produce necessary results.

“It was clear to us, given the state’s history in implementing these court orders, that the state simply lacks the capacity or the will to run a child-welfare system that protects the children of Mississippi,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, a national advocacy organization that works on behalf of abused and neglected children. “We have asked the federal court to appoint a receiver to take over the system. However, we think the appointment of a well-qualified expert group to make specific recommendations is an important step forward, and we welcome the governor’s recognition of the depth of the problems.”

The governor has agreed to hire an executive director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services and waive state salary requirements for the director and for members of a senior management team. The state has also agreed to hire a national child-welfare consulting group, the Public Catalyst Group, to conduct an organizational analysis of the state’s foster-care system and recommend whether it should be a free-standing agency, how it should structured, and what the state needs to do to remedy all of its violations of the court-ordered reform plan. The expert group will also recommend qualified applicants for the head of the new agency, from which the governor will select the agency’s new director.

The governor has also agreed to call a special session of the legislature, if necessary, to support the reorganization of the child-welfare system and provide additional appropriations to act on the expert group’s recommendations, if the state agrees to adopt them.

The expert group will complete its work in four months, and after that time the state will decide whether to accept its recommendations and negotiate an additional court order to implement the recommendations with the plaintiffs. If the state fails to accept the expert group’s recommendations, the plaintiff children will immediately ask the court to reinstate the hearing on the contempt motion. In that case, with the state already having admitted to noncompliance, plaintiffs will ask the Court to appoint a receiver to implement the changes that the expert group will have recommended.

Plaintiff children are also represented by Wayne Drinkwater and Michael Bentley of the law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings and by Christian Carbone and Dan Freidman of the law firm of Loeb and Loeb.

According to Drinkwater, “we are glad that the state has agreed that additional help is needed to ensure that the children of Mississippi receive constitutionally acceptable treatment in the state’s foster-care system. If the state accepts and fully implements the recommendations of the expert group, we hope that appointment of a receiver to administer the state’s foster-care system will not be necessary.”

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, is lead counsel in the Olivia Y. v. Bryant lawsuit since the case was filed in 2004.

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Agreed Order dated July 23, 2015

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

Categories
New York Press Releases

FOSTER CHILDREN BRING FEDERAL CLASS ACTION AGAINST NEW YORK CITY AND STATE FOR HARM IN FOSTER CARE (07.08.15)

FOSTER CHILDREN BRING FEDERAL CLASS ACTION AGAINST NEW YORK CITY AND STATE FOR HARM IN FOSTER CARE

Suit asserts that NYC foster children remain in foster care custody longer than almost anywhere else in the country and that rate of maltreatment is one of the highest in the country.

Elisa W. v. The City of New York, Case No. 1:15-cv-05273, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York

girlTen New York City children who have spent most of their childhood in the foster-care system Wednesday brought a federal class action against the city and state for failing to provide them with permanent homes and for exposing them to harm while in foster care at a higher rate than almost any other place else in the country.

The lawsuit, known as Elisa W. v. The City of New York, names as defendants the city itself; the city agency responsible for child welfare services, The Administration for Children’s Services (”ACS”), and its commissioner, Gladys Carrion; the State of New York; the state agency responsible for child welfare, the Office of Family and Children’s Services (“OCFC”), and its Acting Commissioner, Sheila J. Poole.

The New York City Public Advocate, using her authority under the City Charter, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the New York City defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that New York City is one of the most dangerous foster-care systems in the country and that the state has one of the highest rates of maltreatment of children in foster care of any foster-care system in the country. It also asserts that children remain in state custody in New York City far longer than children elsewhere in New York State and twice as long as children in the rest of the country. According to federal data:

  • Children in foster care in New York City spend twice as much time in state custody as children in the rest of New York State and over double the amount of time in state custody as children in the rest of the nation.
  • It takes longer to return New York City children in foster care to their parents than in the rest of New York State and the rest of the nation. Federal data for 2013 shows that New York City performs worse on this measure than all but five other states and territories.
  • It takes longer for a foster child to be adopted in New York City than anywhere else in the country. New York City has performed worse on this measure than every state since at least 2007.

The suit tells the stories of 10 children, ranging from three to 16, who have spent most of their lives in foster care. Several of these children have been physically harmed while in foster care, all have been emotionally harmed, and none have yet been placed in a permanent home. New York City delegates its day-to-day responsibilities for the care of children in foster care to agencies with which it contracts, but it retains legal responsibility for these children. The lawsuit asserts that the city fails to exercise meaningful oversight of these contract agencies.

  • One 16-year-old girl, who has grown up in foster care and in more different placements than she can remember, has been both physically and psychologically abused while in foster care. She is now on powerful psychotropic medications that leave her barely able to string a sentence together, although she recalls being a very good student when she was young and still has hopes of going to college.
  • Another plaintiff, a three-year-old boy removed from his mother, a schoolteacher, after she reported the boy’s father for abusing her, has been in foster care for almost two years, even though his mother expelled her abuser from the house immediately after he was reported for the abuse. At the end of his regular visits with his mother, the little boy cries uncontrollably. The child’s therapist has told his mother that he has to “get used to it” because this is “his life now.”
  • A two-and-a-half-year-old girl in foster care since birth continues mandatory visits with her mother, although her mother was found to have severely abused two other children, one of whom was killed by the mother’s boyfriend. A proceeding to free the child for adoption has been repeatedly delayed in the Family Court.

The lawsuit alleges a wide range of well-documented and long-recognized deficiencies in the City’s child welfare system. Among them are:

  • ACS’s failure to exercise meaningful oversight over contract agencies,
  • ACS’s failure to ensure an adequately staffed and appropriately trained child-welfare workforce,
  • ACS’s failure to develop a placement process that matches children with appropriate placements,
  • ACS’s failure to ensure that meaningful case plans and service plans for children are developed and implemented, and
  • Defendants’ failure to ensure timely adjudication of Family Court proceedings, which further impedes timely decision-making for children and their placement in permanent homes.

The lawsuit also asserts that the State Office of Children and Family Services has failed to exercise sufficient oversight over New York City’s child-welfare system and to take necessary steps to ensure that the city complies with the requirements of federal law.

The result of all these failures is that children continue to be devastated and permanently damaged by their experiences in the New York City foster-care system, deprived of parents to whom they could be returned, delayed in their access to adoption when they can’t be returned to parents, and deprived for their entire childhood of a chance for a permanent family. According to the lawsuit, every year approximately 1,000 New York City children leave the New York City foster-care system with no permanent family and without a connection to an adult they can trust or count on. Many of them wind up homeless.

The lawsuit asks the court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all New York City foster children and to find that the defendants have violated these children’s constitutional, federal, and state law rights. It also asks that ACS be barred from placing children with contract agencies which do not meet professional caseload, training, planning, and permanency standards and to provide funding for post permanency services. To oversee the city and the state defendants’ compliance with the remedies developed as the result of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask the Court to appoint a Special Master.

“Hundreds of millions of public dollars are spent every year on a system that further devastates children who have already suffered the loss of being removed from their homes,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, an attorney for plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “This problem isn’t new; it’s been documented repeatedly. Yet little gets better for New York City children, and there is an extraordinary lack of urgency about the need to protect them and give them a chance for a decent childhood. That’s why we have asked the Court to act. It’s clearly their last resort and, history tells us, their only chance.”

The child plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood, a nonprofit advocacy organization committed to reforming child welfare systems across the country, and Cravath, Swain and Moore, with a team headed by Julie North, a member of the firm.

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, is lead counsel in the Elisa W. v. The City of New York lawsuit.

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ACS Lawsuit Packet—July 2015
Complaint, filed July 8, 2015.

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425