In 1983, Children’s Rights joined Legal Aid of Western Missouri in a class action aimed at reforming the grossly inadequate child welfare system in Jackson County, Missouri. The federal complaint charges the Missouri Division of Family Services (DFS) with endangering the lives of children in state custody by failing to properly investigate and monitor foster homes. As a result, at the time the lawsuit was filed, foster children in Jackson County experienced very high rates of abuse and neglect, while living in foster homes that were unsafe, unsanitary and unsupervised.
A settlement agreement was reached with Missouri officials in 1983, mandating top-to-bottom reform of the foster care system. After the state repeatedly failed to implemented court-ordered reforms, Children’s Rights and co-counsel successfully filed a contempt motion against the state and a full trial was held in 1992. A new settlement agreement was reached in 1994, which mandated such improvements as training for foster parents and mandatory criminal history and child abuse checks for prospective foster families.
Over the next ten years, with court oversight, DFS successfully implemented all of the reforms required by the consent decree. On February 1, 2006, the court conditionally dismissed the case, court oversight officially ended, and the state agreed to keep in place until 2009 the policies, practices and staff positions created as a result of the lawsuit.