New Jersey (Charlie and Nadine H. v. Christie)
Children’s Rights filed this class action lawsuit in 1999 on behalf of more than 11,000 children in New Jersey’s child welfare system. In 2003 — following the much publicized death of Faheem Williams and the discovery of his two starving siblings, children known to the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) — a landmark settlement agreement mandating sweeping reforms was reached, but initially yielded few results.
In October of 2005, the independent panel monitoring the reform effort found that New Jersey was making “seriously inadequate progress” toward implementing the court-ordered improvements. After negotiations to expedite the reforms ended unsuccessfully, Children’s Rights filed a contempt motion against the state and requested that newly elected Governor Jon Corzine be appointed receiver of the child welfare system. In January of 2006, after Governor Corzine announced the creation of a new cabinet-level children’s agency, Children’s Rights put the contempt motion on hold and began negotiations with the new administration.
Since then, New Jersey has made significant progress in implementing the first phase of the massive reform effort. DYFS is recruiting and licensing more foster parents; caseworkers are better trained and have more manageable caseloads; and in 2007 New Jersey broke its own record for the most adoptions finalized in one year. However, significant challenges lie ahead, including recent changes in DYFS leadership, as the state works to meet the benchmarks for Phase II, which began in January of 2009. Children’s Rights will remain in place as a watchdog until all of the court-ordered reforms are fully implemented.