Publication to Offer Lessons Learned on Child Welfare Litigation

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An array of people involved in child welfare litigation are preparing a publication that will discuss lessons learned from the decades of lawsuits against nearly half of the states, and Washington, D.C.

Commissioned lawyers, court monitors, consultants and state leaders involved in the lawsuits will share their thoughts about what worked – and what didn’t – as child welfare systems settled on what problems to correct and how to correct them.

There are 25 child welfare lawsuits that are either currently in litigation or pending completion of a settlement agreement, according to the National Center for Youth Law. Dozens of other cases have already concluded, some with damages awarded to the plaintiffs. 

The Lessons Learned Project is overseen by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, with financial support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The project is led by CSSP Deputy Director Judith Meltzer, who has served as the independent monitor on cases in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey and consulted on court-enforced reforms in Connecticut and Tennessee.

The concept of a publication grew out of a small symposium a year ago at Vanderbilt University, Meltzer said, where 15 child welfare leaders got together to discuss class action lawsuits. 

Writers for the project include:

-Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, by far the most active litigator of child welfare systems.

-John O’Toole and Leecia Welch of the National Center for Youth Law, an Oakland, Calif.-based group that sued Utah in 1993; the state was dismissed from the lawsuit in 2008.

-Paul Vincent, the former director of Alabama’s child welfare system and director of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, who has served as a consultant for many state and county systems under court monitoring.

-Jerry Milner, former head of the Child and Family Services Review Unit at the federal Administration for Children and Families.

Meltzer expects some finished product “in the first quarter of 2011.”

O’Toole said he hopes for a larger public forum about the lawsuits after the publication is out. “We don’t have the money for that” right now, he said.