WASHINGTON, DC — Slamming city officials for a history of “obstinate conduct” and “running the clock” by challenging court-ordered child welfare reforms rather than implementing them, the federal judge presiding over a long-running class action brought by Children’s Rights to reform the District of Columbia’s troubled child welfare system today ordered District officials to allocate significant new funds to support youth who have aged out of foster care.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan (PDF) — who earlier this year held the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) in contempt for failure to implement an annual strategy plan, and specifically held Mayor Adrian Fenty in contempt for failing to consult with Children’s Rights before appointing a new CFSA director — requires the District to set aside resources equal to the amount the District has run up in legal fees over the year and a half it has spent fighting Children’s Right’s 2009 motion for contempt.
That amount, plus an additional $40,000, must immediately be spent on programming aimed at supporting older youth transitioning out of foster care and into independent living as adults.
“These additional funds will provide immediate assistance to the very children District officials have been neglecting as they have sought to challenge the court’s orders to reform CFSA,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director for Children’s Rights. “Today the court has sent a very clear message that it will continue to act decisively to hold District officials accountable for the commitments they have made to maintain a child welfare system that truly serves the thousands of abused and neglected children and vulnerable families who depend on it.”
According to today’s ruling, Mayor Fenty or his designee must also meet with Children’s Rights in the next six weeks to discuss CFSA’s management and plan to improve its reform efforts. The court also ordered that Children’s Rights must be consulted before a new CFSA director is appointed, should a change in leadership occur.
Children’s Rights now awaits a ruling from Judge Hogan on what will essentially be the District’s plan to implement the court-ordered reforms, including addressing the number of times kids are bounced from one foster home to another, improving visitation between children and parents slated for reunification, and reducing long periods of time children eligible for adoption wait for adoptive homes.
Children’s Rights originally filed a motion for contempt in July 2008 that resulted in a new plan to address serious problems at CFSA – but renewed its motion in January 2009 after District officials asked the judge to approve a six-month plan that had been rejected by the independent court monitor. The motion charged the administration with impeding the implementation of court-mandated reforms and placing the District’s desire to escape court oversight ahead of the safety and well-being of the city’s abused and neglected children.
Children’s Rights filed the class action known as LaShawn A v. Fenty in 1989. Following a 1991 trial on the merits and a finding by the court that the District’s child welfare system violated applicable law, a court-enforceable reform plan was negotiated between Children’s Rights and defendants in 1993 and approved by the court. In the years that followed, the District only made minimal progress toward achieving court-mandated reforms, prompting the court to impose the unprecedented remedy of a federal takeover of the system’s management in 1995.
The District regained control of the beleaguered agency in 2000, after establishing the cabinet-level Child and Family Services Agency and committing to major reform. CFSA initially made some improvements, but began to deteriorate and, 10 years later, the District remains in violation of the court-ordered reform plan.
The full text of the court’s decision and a complete collection of materials related to the LaShawn A. reform class action are available at www.childrensrights.org/dc.