On September 14, 2021, Leecia Welch joined Children’s Rights as a new Lead Counsel. Welch brings extensive legal experience in the child welfare field, including 16 years at the National Center for Youth Law, where she was the Senior Director of Child Welfare and Legal Advocacy specializing in child welfare, mental health, immigration, and education issues. Welch is co-counsel in the D.S. v Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) case.
D.S. v. DCYF was filed, in federal court in January 2021 on behalf of three named plaintiffs, hundreds of similarly situated youth in foster care, and Disability Rights Washington. The lawsuit alleges that Washington has been shuttling children with behavioral health and developmental disabilities from hotels to state offices to other one-night stays, “essentially rendering them homeless for extended periods of time.” Other youth end up in institutions, some of them hundreds of miles from their families in non-therapeutic facilities that further traumatize them. In June 2021, Federal Judge Barbara Rothstein ordered DCYF to end its practice of forcing youth in foster care to sleep in unlicensed and unsafe settings, including hotels, child welfare agency offices, and other harmful temporary places. The injunction immediately prohibits DCYF from keeping children overnight in offices and cars and calls for an end to housing them in hotels and offices by November 1. Plaintiffs continue to litigate the case to ensure that all children in foster care with disabilities are able to live in a safe, caring environment and have the supports needed to reunify with their families. The lawsuit was originally filed by Disability Rights Washington, the National Center for Youth Law, and Carney Gillespie PLLP, and the plaintiffs’ team now includes Children’s Rights and Munger Tolles & Olson.