In The Courtroom

When Children’s Rights began its investigation into the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), several things stood out. The high rate of maltreatment in care. The frequency with which kids are bounced between placements. The percentage of foster youth on psychotropic medications. The number of children who are reunified with their families, only to be abused and neglected again.

Team Massachusetts

Team Mass. at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, during the trial to reform Massachusetts foster care.

These were some of the troubling issues that compelled Children’s Rights and Boston law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP to file a federal class action lawsuit in April 2010. Connor B. v. Patrick asserts that DCF violates the constitutional rights of children by failing to meet the legal obligations of the state-run child welfare system, and seeks broad reform on behalf of abused and neglected children statewide.

Since January 22, when the trial started in Boston’s U.S.District Court, our team of attorneys has demonstrated the need for a court-ordered remedy. “The substantial majority of the approximately 7,500 children in MA foster care entered state custody because they did nothing more than endure abuse or neglect in their family homes,” said Sara Bartosz, lead attorney for Children’s Rights. “Far too frequently these children suffer shocking abuses once in state care.”

The case went to trial as the Office of the Child Advocate released a startling report showing that 40 children died under the state’s watch in 2011. The tragic outcomes underscored in this report, and by the named plaintiffs in Connor B., reveal systemic flaws that the lawsuit seeks to remedy–from overwhelming caseloads to a lack of appropriate training and inadequate accountability systems.

Children’s Rights and co-counsel rested our case on March 1; the state is likely to call witnesses into May. As we await Judge William G. Young’s ruling, one thing is certain: Children’s Rights will continue to put its all into fighting for the protection and well-being of Massachusetts foster youth.

Read additional articles in Notes from the Field, the Children’s Rights Newsletter: