Federal Judge Blocks Harmful Missouri Adoption Law from Taking Effect

Kansas City, MO — A federal judge today issued an order permanently banning a Missouri law from taking effect that would have cut critical adoption assistance subsidies for thousands of abused and neglected children. In the case, E.C. v. Blunt, a judge ruled that the Missouri law violated the federal rights of abused and neglected foster children with specialized needs and would have caused them to suffer irreparable harm.

“This ill-advised state law was an attempt to balance the Missouri state budget on the backs of abused and neglected children,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights, which joined a statewide coalition of lawyers representing thousands of children challenging the law. “Today’s victory shows the power of our federal civil rights laws to hold states accountable when they step on the rights of vulnerable citizens.”

“The Missouri law claimed to save money by directing funds to the most needy families, but evidence showed it would harm needy children and actually cost the state more money,” said John Amman, a law professor at the St. Louis School of Law Legal Clinic and a coalition lawyer.

Plaintiffs introduced a letter from the U.S. Department of Human Services to the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) Director Sherman, in which the federal government found that the state law violated numerous federal requirements prohibiting blanket terminations of subsidy contracts. In addition, an internal Missouri DSSmemo evaluating the law was introduced at trial, showing that the law would disadvantage some children over others in their chances of getting adopted, and would cause children to stay in government custody longer, which is more expensive than the subsidies that would have been cut. Missouri already ranks 49 in the nation in the low amount it pays in adoption subsidies.

“This law would have allowed the state to make arbitrary decisions with devastating effects, ” said Lori Burns Bucklew, attorney with the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon and a coalition lawyer. “This is a huge win for foster children and parents in Missouri and throughout the United States. ”

Many advocates saw the E.C. v. Blunt lawsuit as a test case, as states consider cutting adoption subsidies to cut their budgets. In September of 2005, the federal court issued a preliminary ruling blocking the law from taking effect until today’s trial. Missouri may appeal today’s ruling.

The full coalition challenging the Missouri law included lawyers at Children’s Rights in New York; John Amman and Amy Sanders of the St. Louis University Law School Clinic; James Meuhlberger, Lori Burns-Bucklew, Nicholas Mizell, Pam Macer and Kathleen Jeanetta at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP in Kansas City; Thomas Kennedy and Deborah Greider of Alton, Illinois; and James Wilson and Stephen Reynolds of Berg, Borgmann & Wolk LLP in St. Louis.

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