National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Juan F. v. Rell
also known as Juan F. v. O'Neill, Juan F. v. Rowland, and Juan F. v. Weicker

This class action lawsuit charged that the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) was grossly underfunded and understaffed, child abuse complaints were not investigated, high caseloads overwhelmed social workers, and the dwindling supply of foster parents were underpaid and inadequately trained.
Plaintiffs brought claims under the reasonable efforts provisions of Title IV-E, the Due Process Clause, and the “right to liberty and family integrity” protected by the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth amendments.

 

Overview

FILE NO., COURT, AND DATE FILED

Civ. No-H-89-859 (D.C. Conn., Dec. 19, 1989); 93-7714 (2d Cir. Oct. 13, 1994)

CITATIONS

37 F.3d 874 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1142 (1995); 2000 WL 3319474 (D.C. Conn. Dec. 22, 2000); 2001 WL 263395 (D.C. Conn. Feb. 9, 2001); 2004 WL 288804 (D.C. Conn. Feb. 10, 2004)

 

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Martha Stone
Center for Children’s Advocacy
University of Connecticut Law School
65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
(860) 570-5327
Fax: (860) 570-5256
mstone@law.uconn.edu
Ira Lustbader
Children’s Rights, Inc.
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2210
Fax: (212) 683-4015
ilustbader@childrensrights.org

 

HISTORY AND STATUS

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the court established a mediation panel that interviewed department employees, examined documents, and held public hearings to determine how to solve DCF’s problems. The panel agreed on a settlement in January 1991.  Detailed manuals to guide implementation were incorporated into the consent decree in September 1992.  Two months later, the court appointed a monitor to oversee implementation of the decree.

In spring 1993, a major obstacle to implementation arose when the legislature severely cut the funding requested by the agency.  Plaintiffs invoked the dispute resolution process set forth in the consent decree.

The monitor, after a hearing, found that defendants did not have a plan that would achieve substantial compliance, given the level of funding available.  After a hearing in June 1993, the court adopted the monitor’s report and recommendations and ordered certain provisions of the consent decree enforced. The Second Circuit rejected defendants’ appeal of this order.

In 1995, in response to increased caseloads, plaintiffs and the court monitor forced the state to hire an additional 200 social workers.  In early 1996, plaintiffs returned to the court monitor and to the court to enforce compliance after DCF failed to implement promptly a plan to expand resources such as foster care, day treatment, respite care, and crisis counseling.

In 2000, Ray Sirry assumed the role of court monitor.  After a number of reports, in February 2002, the parties entered into an agreement intended to allow defendants to exit the consent decree.  Nonetheless, in July 2003, the monitor released findings and recommendations that concluded that defendants had failed to comply with the decree in fundamental areas.

On October 7, 2003, the parties agreed to another modification to the decree.  The change created a three-person transition task force, composed of the court monitor, the Commissioner of DCF, and the Secretary of the Office of Policy Management.  Disagreements would be appealed to the governor with the court being the final arbiter.  In January 2004, the court approved a Final Exit Plan.  The Plan measures defendants’ performance based on 22 outcome measures, and anticipated exit by November 2006.

Weeks later, defendants filed a motion for reconsideration, questioning the legality of parts of the Plan.  Plaintiffs opposed, and the court denied the motion.

In 2004, the court monitor and task force began implementation of structural changes, including reducing headquarter staff and creating a new system of neighborhood-based service delivery.  The legislature also approved 40 million additional dollars for meeting exit plan requirements.

In September and October of 2005, the monitoring structure was further revised by court order, and Ray Mancuso was appointed to act as court monitor.  The court’s order also created a Technical Advisory Committee consisting of three national experts.  This committee advises DCF regarding major problem areas and advises the monitor regarding data collection and methodologies used in reporting the state’s compliance.

Although DCF made progress in meeting many of the outcome measures, plaintiffs triggered contempt proceedings in May 2008 after DCF failed to meet two critical measures involving treatment planning and meeting children’s service needs. The parties reached a new agreement in July 2008. DCF agreed to partner with a technical assistance committee of national experts to develop a reform plan.

Subsequently, DCF began directing reform efforts toward reducing its over-reliance on non-family group homes and emergency facilities to house children in state custody; strengthening its efforts to recruit, retain, and support an adequate pool of foster families; clearing its backlog of overdue health care screenings and treatment for children in foster care; and addressing other unmet needs of children in custody. Plaintiffs and state officials agreed in January 2009 to expand the reach of newly created heightened case reviews of children “stuck” in the system.

A report from the court monitor, issued in March 2010, shows that DCF is not meeting the court-enforceable benchmarks for reform in areas such as recruiting new foster families and providing vital treatment and services to vulnerable children and families.  DCF has also failed to reduce the state’s reliance on institutions and group homes as required by the settlement. On April 12, 2010, plaintiffs again triggered contempt proceedings.   If negotiations to address plaintiffs’ concerns are unsuccessful, plaintiffs may take further action.

Additionally in 2010, defendants filed a motion to vacate the consent decreed under F.R.C.P. Rule 60(b)(5) largely based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Horne v. Flores, 129 S. Ct. 2579 (2009).   On September 22, 2010, the U.S. District Court denied defendants’ motion, finding that the decree was not unworkable due to unforeseen circumstances; that the changed legal circumstances cited by defendants made the decree more equitable, not less; and that the decree does not implicate federalism concerns as it is the result of negotiations between the parties and may be revised to make compliance more achievable.  The court also ordered the parties to meet immediately with the Court Monitor to determine whether performance evaluation methods should be adjusted.