Visionaries Features Landmark Children’s Rights Case

“How one of the worst child welfare systems became one of the best”

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343,

(New York, NY) – A successful Children’s Rights lawsuit that transformed Tennessee’s foster care system into a model for the nation is the subject of a public television documentary airing this month. It was produced by The Visionaries, an award-winning public television series hosted by actor Sam Waterston. Children’s Rights was one of 12 nonprofits, selected from among hundreds, to be profiled this season.

The episode, “Protecting Kids, Providing Hope,” tells the story of how the Tennessee foster care system, one of the worst in the nation, became one of the best. Through interviews with Children’s Rights attorneys, local advocates, named plaintiffs and state officials, we see how the power of the courts brings tenacious legal advocates and public officials together to do the right thing. The film provides a road map other states can follow to build higher functioning, more accountable systems for vulnerable kids.

The story begins nearly 20 years ago, when Children’s Rights brought a class action lawsuit against Tennessee on behalf of thousands of children whose situation was dire. By the late 1990s the number of children in state care had skyrocketed, staffing and resources could not keep pace, and systemic failings meant that children were at increasing risk. They were being kept in overcrowded emergency shelters for weeks, moved abruptly from placement to placement, denied contact with siblings and their home communities, and unnecessarily warehoused in inappropriate group facilities.

When the case was settled, the court held Tennessee accountable for meeting specific, enforceable benchmarks and slow but steady progress began to be made. State leaders embraced the necessity of investing at the front end of the system to ensure more kids were safe and had a better chance of becoming part of permanent families.

Today, foster children in Tennessee are reunified with their families or adopted more often and faster. The housing system for children in foster care is driven by families, not facilities. Older youth are more often getting the critical assistance they need. Caseworkers have manageable caseloads. And progress is being made in combating the overrepresentation of African American children in the system.

Tennessee is one of the many places across America where Children’s Rights has had a lasting impact. Its unique litigation model has improved child welfare systems in 19 states, with a win rate of 90%. Children’s Rights has established the national legal precedent that children in foster care have the constitutional right to be free from harm while in state custody.

In the past 23 years, reforms driven by Children’s Rights legal action have improved the lives of millions of children. In the process, Children’s Rights has provided governments with a framework for reform and a commitment of resources that will deeply transform the lives of the children in its care for years to come.


About Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit


About The Visionaries: The Visionaries documentary series, hosted by acclaimed actor Sam Waterston, highlights the rarely told stories of individuals and non-profit organizations that are working to create positive social change throughout the world. Visionaries is the winner of several Telly Awards and an Emmy nomination for Best Documentary. It has produced over 220 documentaries for its nationally broadcast public television series, The Visionaries, which is currently airing its 22nd season. For more information, please visit