A Reflection on the Work of a Champion for Children
Today, the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) celebrates another victory for children as a federal judge has granted final approval of a groundbreaking settlement designed to ensure that children in foster care in Missouri are administered psychotropic medications only when safe and necessary. The settlement resolves the civil rights lawsuit M.B. v. Tidball, the first federal class-action lawsuit in the country to focus singularly on the widespread and often dangerous use of psychotropic medications among youth in foster care. The agreement will benefit the more than 13,000 children in Missouri’s foster care system and sets a strong legal precedent that may lead to greater safety in the use of psychotropics among youth in foster care nationwide.
As we celebrate this victory, we also are feeling grateful for and inspired by the man who was a driving force behind this litigation – our late colleague and friend Bill Grimm. Over the past ten years, Bill has been one of the leading advocates in the country focused on ensuring that children in foster care are safely prescribed psychotropic medication and protected from the harmful effects of overmedication. Bill first became passionate about this systemic problem after hearing the story of a former foster youth client who nearly died in foster care twice due to improper administration of psychotropic medications.
Bill’s commitment to the children of Missouri was emblematic of his lifelong pursuit of justice for children nationwide. His historic accomplishments spanned 40 years – 30 of which were with NCYL – and include:
- Leading litigation against the state of Utah, which in 1993 had one of the worst foster care systems in the country. Implementation of the settlement agreement has led Utah’s foster care system to serve as a nationwide model of success in serving children in foster care.
- Representing children in the Washington State foster care system in pioneering litigation that remains one of the few cases in which a constitutional violation was found based solely on the psychological and emotional damage suffered by foster children who are moved repeatedly. The case put states and cities with similar problems on notice.
- Initiating a class action lawsuit on behalf of Arkansas’ abused and neglected children that resulted in smaller caseloads for better-trained social workers, quicker responses to reports of abuse, increased adoptions, and dramatically improved health care for children in foster care.
In addition to his systemic reform litigation, Bill led multiple psychotropic medication policy projects. This work included: developing a national medical and scientific advisory board comprised of leading child psychiatry experts on the impact on psychotropic medications on children; translating relevant research into issue briefs targeting different stakeholder groups; and working directly with foster youth to develop and advocate for a set of policy changes. As a result of this policy work, California enacted five NCYL-sponsored bills:
- Senate Bill 484 (2015): Requiring California to identify the group homes most over-reliant on psychotropic medication and requiring these homes to develop alternative treatments.
- Senate Bill 319 (2015): Requiring public health nurses to improve their monitoring of foster children prescribed psychotropic medications.
- Senate Bill 238 (2015): Requiring a variety of stakeholder groups to receive training on the appropriate uses of psychotropic medications.
- Senate Bill 1174 (2016): Subjecting prescribing physicians to heightened scrutiny by enabling the Medical Board of California to conduct investigations of physicians who frequently prescribe outside recognized safety parameters for children.
- Senate Bill 1291 (2016): Requiring the State to monitor counties to ensure they offer mental health services for children in foster care that include non-drug treatments.
Bill’s work reforming child welfare systems on behalf of low-income youth has been recognized with numerous awards, including the American Bar Association’s John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award in 1994 and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Kutak-Dodds Prize in 2005. Most recently, Bill was honored with the 2019 American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law’s Mark Hardin award.
In the words of NCYL’s former executive director John O’Toole, “Bill Grimm is the single most effective child welfare litigator in America.” Bill passed away on April 2, 2019 and the loss is still felt deeply here at NCYL and by child advocates nationwide. We were privileged to learn from and work alongside him. His contributions changed the lives of children and they remain a legacy that will continue to serve the welfare of children for decades to come.
Today, our victory is celebrated in his honor and cherished memory.
Interested in learning more about Bill? Read more here: