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Federal Judge Recognizes Major Strides for Children

By Eric Thompson, Esq.

In a milestone for Milwaukee children in foster care served by Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families, a federal court has ordered that the agency can exit federal court oversight of a settlement agreement that resulted in major systems change and tangible results for kids.

This now closed case is a prime example of how legal advocacy can help hold governments accountable and transform the way children are treated by public systems.

The class action lawsuit, Jeanine B. v. Evers, which was brought to overhaul Milwaukee County’s foster care system in 1993, was settled in 2002. Wisconsin’s resulting commitment to continued reforms and to public investments in children and their needs has provided sufficient resources, staffing, supervision, and training so that today we can say with confidence that foster children are safe, they are having their needs met, and they are less likely to spend years in out-of-home care before being safely returned home or placed in an alternate permanent home. As a result, there are more than 3,000 fewer Milwaukee children in foster care than when the lawsuit was settled.

In addressing the parties on their joint motion to exit the Consent Decree in the case, Chief Judge Pamela Pepper praised everyone for their collaborative work. She said she rarely has an opportunity to preside over a celebration of what previously opposing parties can accomplish together. She compared the mood in the courtroom that day to what it feels like when she presides at a naturalization ceremony—a rare instance in court when everybody is happy. Judge Pepper also celebrated the fact that this case illustrates that when society drags its heels and fails to do the right thing, people can find shelter in the law.

The great lesson for me in this case is that it was ours to win because Children’s Rights was here to stay — we knew that was our strength. Through many Administrations and lots of ups and downs, we never got distracted from our goal. We outlasted the setbacks to demand permanent improvements in the lives of children in Milwaukee.

I want to thank co-counsel the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Wisconsin, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, P.A., and Dorsey & Whitney LLP, who invested their own resources to make this successful outcome possible.

To read more about our lawsuit, visit our case page.

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