Class Actions

District of Columbia

DC - LaShawn A. v. Gray

LaShawn A., one of seven named plaintiffs at the time of filing, was 4 years old and had been in “emergency” foster care for 2 ½ years, even though D.C. law mandates that a child can remain in emergency care no longer than 90 days. During this period, the Department of Human Services had never developed an adequate case plan for her. The Department planned to return LaShawn home but failed to provide her mother with services to ensure a successful reunification. The Department also failed to provide LaShawn with needed psychological services.

Demerick B. was 3 years old at the time the complaint was filed. He was initially placed in a short-term emergency care facility, where he remained for three years, despite repeated pleas from facility staff to move him to a foster home. During his three years at this facility, no worker from the Department ever visited him. In the nearly two years after Demerick’s case goal was changed to adoption, the Department had done virtually nothing to effectuate the adoption, leaving Demerick languishing in “emergency” care.

As of August 15, 2014, former Children’s Rights executive director Marcia Lowry and local counsel have sole responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the reform efforts in Washington, D.C. 

Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, United States District Court for the District of Columbia
STATUS: Monitoring
FILED: June 20, 1989
JUDGMENT ENTERED FOR PLAINTIFFS: April 18, 1991; current Implementation and Exit Plan effective December 17, 2010

Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, filed this case against the Mayor of the District of Columbia, the Director of the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS), and various officials within DHS on behalf of children in foster care or known to the D.C. child welfare system because of reported abuse or neglect. The <ahref=”/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/1989-6-20_dc_lashawn_complaint.pdf”>Complaint alleged violations of the plaintiffs’ statutory rights under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, the D.C. Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Act of 1977, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the D.C. Youth Residential Facilities Licensure Act of 1986, and the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment. Following a trial, the <ahref=”/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/LaShawn-Final-Opinion.pdf”>Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, acknowledging the constitutional and statutory deficiencies of the Washington, D.C. child welfare system, and ordered reforms to be undertaken. The defendants appealed, but the Court of Appeals upheld Judge Hogan’s opinion.

The scope and details of these reforms were modified several times; at one point, due to a cycle of noncompliance and sluggish process, the court granted the plaintiffs’ contempt motion and ordered the D.C. child welfare system into receivership, which has since ended. The present document governing oversight of the D.C. child welfare system is the 2010 Implementation and Exit Plan. As a result of this Exit Plan and Children’s Rights’ monitoring efforts, in concert with the Center for the Study of Social Policy (which serves as the court-appointed monitor), Children’s Rights succeeded in bringing substantial reforms in the District of Columbia. According to the Progress Report released in May 2014:

  • Investigations of abuse and neglect in foster homes continued to be completed in a timely manner. The agency comprehensively investigated 80-100 percent of reports of abuse or neglect within required timeframes.
  • Ninety-six percent of foster parents with renewed licenses received 30 hours of training during the monitoring period from July to December of 2013.
  • Children were placed in family-like settings.  The agency continued to place most children entering care in family settings and was doing a better job of keeping siblings together.
  • The agency was ensuring that children received needed medical care.  During three months of the six-month review period from July to December of 2013, 100 percent of children who entered care received medical screenings prior to placements.

However, the report also flagged a number of outstanding areas where further progress was needed:

  • DC struggled to ensure consistent high-quality child abuse and neglect investigations. As of 2013, only 65 percent of investigations were found to be acceptable.
  • The agency routinely failed to timely complete investigations of abuse within 35 days. In March 2014, only 48 percent of investigations were completed in this timeframe.
  • DC struggled to find permanent homes for children who were in foster care for more than a year. By September 2013, only 38 percent of children in care between 12 and 25 months and only 20 percent of children in foster care for 25 or more months had permanent homes.