NJ - Charlie & Nadine H. v. Christie
At the time the complaint was filed, there were seven named plaintiffs, including siblings Charlie and Nadine H.
Charlie and Nadine H., ages 11 and 9 at the time the complaint was filed in 1999, were no closer to adoption than when they entered foster care four years earlier. They were left in a foster care placement for almost five years with their father’s estranged wife and her boyfriend, a convicted sex-offender. The couple repeatedly beat the children and subjected them to filthy conditions. In 1998, the children were removed from this home and placed in an “emergency” foster home, where they stayed for a year. After the lawsuit was filed, the children were placed with a family that ultimately adopted them two years later, ending years of suffering and instability.
U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler, U.S. District Court in the District of New Jersey
FILED: August 4, 1999
SETTLEMENT REACHED: June 23, 2003; modified July 18, 2006
Children’s Rights, along with then co-counsel Lowenstein Sandler PC, filed this case against the Governor of the state of New Jersey, the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services and the Director of the Division of Youth and Family services on behalf of the more than 9,000 children in the custody of New Jersey’s child welfare system and tens of thousands of additional children who were victims of abuse or neglect or at risk of maltreatment statewide. The Amended Complaint alleged violations of the children’s 14th Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm and violations of the Multiethnic Placement Act. The parties settled the case in 2003, mandating a sweeping reform of the child welfare system. However, when an independent panel, monitoring the reform as required as part of the settlement, found that New Jersey was making “seriously inadequate progress,” Children’s Rights filed a contempt motion against the state. As a result, then-Governor Jon Corzine created a cabinet level children’s agency and a Modified Settlement Agreement was reached in 2006.
As a result of its ongoing advocacy in concert with the state of New Jersey and the court-appointed monitor, Children’s Rights has succeeded in bringing about substantial reforms in New Jersey:
- For the first time ever, a statewide 24-hour, 7-days-a-week hotline was implemented for receiving and processing calls of suspected child abuse and neglect.
- As of 2014, 97 percent of referrals have an investigation commenced within an hour of the hotline call’s completion.
- In 2000, foster homes were so scarce that kids spent days living in child welfare offices. In 2012, thanks to an ongoing recruitment effort, New Jersey had the capacity to serve more than twice the number of kids in foster care.
- The state has maintained a high rate of finalizing adoptions each year; as of December 2013, 74 percent of children who were legally freed in 2012 had finalized adoptions in under 12 months; and 100 percent of adoptions were finalized within nine months of the adoptive placement.
- In calendar year 2013, 77 percent of sibling groups of two or three siblings were placed together.
- DCF has met or exceeded the majority of MSA benchmarks to date regarding worker caseloads, and now workers have caseloads that allow them to adequately perform their jobs. As of December 2013, 95 percent of permanency caseworkers had caseloads below the national standards. For intake and adoption workers, 87 percent had caseloads below the national standards.
- A Child Welfare Training Academy was created, and in 2013, 97 percent of staff members completed the minimum 40 hours of training.
However, the most recent Monitoring Report released by the Center for Study of Social Policy flags a number of outstanding areas of poor performance:
- The state continues to struggle to ensure timely completion of investigations of abuse. Only 63 percent of abuse and neglect investigations are completed in the necessary timeframe, while the goal is 98 percent.
- Visitation remains an area of concern. The percentage of caseworkers who visit children in the required amount of time continues to remain below the target set by the settlement. In addition, the state still has not met the standard for required visitation between children and separated siblings and parents with the goal of reunification.
- Only 74 percent of parents with the goal of reunification had the required amount of face-to-face contact with their caseworker.
- New Jersey struggles to provide stability in school and in placements for the children. In 2013, 18 percent of children had two or more placements during the first year spent in foster care. Moreover, of all children who left care in 2012, 13 percent re-entered care within one year.
- Nine months after termination of parental rights, only 24 percent of children with a permanency goal of adoption and no adoptive home at the time of termination had been placed in pre-adoptive placements.
Defendants will exit monitoring once they have complied with the Modified Settlement Agreement and its targeted performance requirements for a continuous period of two years.
As of August 15, 2014 Children’s Rights’ founder and director emeritus, Marcia Lowry, and local co-counsel, have sole responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the reform efforts in New Jersey.