National Center for Youth Law


G.L. v. Sherman
also known as G.L. v. Stangler and G.L. v. Zumwalt

In this class action, plaintiffs sought to establish the federal constitutional and statutory rights of foster children to be protected from harm and to receive appropriate treatment while in state custody.  The lawsuit was filed against officials of the Missouri Division of Family Services (DFS) on behalf of all children in Jackson County placed in foster homes by DFS pursuant to juvenile court order.  Plaintiffs alleged that children were exposed to contagious diseases, deprived of medical and psychiatric care, subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and transferred between foster homes inappropriately and without adequate preparation.



77-242-CV-W-3-JWO (W.D. Mo., Mar. 28, 1977)


564 F. Supp. 1030 (W.D. Mo. 1983); 73l F. Supp. 365 (W.D. Mo. l990); 873 F. Supp. 252 (W.D. Mo. 1994)




Susan Lambiase
Children’s Rights, Inc.
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2210
Fax (212) 683-4015
Lori Burns-Bucklew
Shook, Hardy & Bacon
2555 Grand Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 559-2313
Fax: (816) 421-5547



After experts undertook an empirical study of the Kansas City/Jackson County foster care system that documented plaintiffs’ allegations, in March 1983 the district court approved a negotiated consent decree recognizing the legal rights of foster children to be protected from abuse, neglect, and other forms of harm while in state custody.

In 1985, DFS sought modification of the decree.  Plaintiffs countered with a contempt motion, and these issues were settled with a supplemental consent decree that created a monitoring committee.  The committee issued reports every six months identifying areas of compliance and noncompliance.  In 1992, after years of non-compliance by DFS with many of the consent decree terms and several contempt motions filed by plaintiffs, plaintiffs again moved to hold defendants in contempt.  A trial took place in January 1992.

The court granted the motion, finding defendants in contempt due to a “lack of commitment to make a good faith effort.”  The court’s order directed defendants to take specific steps to remedy noncompliance including directing the state to lobby for budget increases, and threatening to transfer workers from other counties to ease Kansas City’s caseloads.

In response to the contempt finding, defendants agreed to commission a panel of national experts to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment of Kansas City’s child welfare system, and make specific recommendations.  In early 1994, the parties began to renegotiate the consent decree.  In December 1994, the court approved a modified Consent Decree and Operational Guide.  In March 1995, a monitoring plan was developed.  The Division of Family Services produced semi-annual compliance reports.  In October 1995, when compliance figures were low, the state created an internal “receivership” to address the problems, and the parties developed a problem-solving process to try to avoid further litigation.

There has been significant progress.  Based on defendants’ substantial compliance with components of the consent decree, in 2000, the parties renegotiated the decree, allowing the state to exit from some provisions.  On January 30, 2001, the court approved an Amended Decree and Operational Guide.  The amended decree created a permanent community quality assurance committee, which will take over system monitoring once DFS reaches substantial compliance and exits from the decree.

In the following years, DFS successfully implemented all of the reforms required by the consent decree. On February 1, 2006, the court conditionally dismissed the case and court oversight officially ended.  The state agreed to keep in place until 2009 the policies, practices, and staff positions created as a result of the lawsuit.