National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Michelle H v. Haley  

Plaintiff foster children filed a class action lawsuit alleging that deficiencies in the operation of the South Carolina Department of Social Services (“SCDSS”) subjected children in the state’s care to harm or an unreasonable risk of harm.  Plaintiffs alleged that SCDSS failed to maintain an adequate number of foster homes, resulting in over-institutionalization of foster children who did not require institutionalization; repeated, frequent movement of children between placements; and deprivation of meaningful familial contacts. Additional issues raised included that SCDSS had excessive caseworker caseloads resulting in a workforce that could not effectively monitor children’s safety, maltreatment of children in SCDSS care and a failure to investigate that maltreatment; and that SCDSS failed to provide medical, dental, and mental health treatment, leading to the emotional and psychological deterioration of children in SCDSS custody.

 

Overview

FILE NO., COURT AND DATE FILED

2:15-cv-00134-RMG (South Carolina, Charleston Division, January 12, 2015)

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW NO.

CW-SC-0002

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Susan Berkowitz
Stephen Suggs
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
P.O. Box 7187
Columbia, S.C. 29202
(803) 779-1113
sberk@scjustice.org

Ira Lustbader
Kathryn A. Wood
Children’s Rights
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, New York 10001
212-683-2210
ilustbader@childrensrights.org

Matthew T. Richardson
Wyche P.A.
801 Gervais Street, Suite B
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 254-6542
mrichardson@wyche.com

HISTORY AND STATUS

On January 12, 2015, eleven minor children in the custody of SCDSS filed a class action lawsuit against Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and SCDSS in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.

On March 16, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On March 30, 2015, with Defendants’ motion pending, the District Court entered a text order asking the parties to engage in early mediation. The parties agreed to do so.

On September 28, 2015, the parties entered into an interim settlement agreement. As part of the “Consent Immediate Interim Relief Order,” the plaintiff class was certified and limited co-monitors were appointed. SCDSS also agreed to undertake several remedial steps, including phasing out use of SCDSS offices, hotels and motels as placements and no longer recommending that children remain in juvenile detention because of a lack of foster homes. SCDSS also agreed to undertake a workload study, adopt workload limits, conduct a placement needs assessment, and create a plan to end the placement of children ages six and under in non-family group placements.

On June 3, 2016, the parties jointly filed a proposed settlement agreement, which was approved on October 4, 2016. The settlement appointed two national child welfare experts as independent co-monitors: Paul Vincent of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group and Judith Meltzer of the Center for the Study of Social Policy. The monitors were tasked with issuing periodic, public reports on the state’s progress in meeting benchmarks outlined in the settlement. The final settlement also requires SCDSS to end practices addressed previously in the interim settlement, such as keeping foster children overnight in hotels and SCDSS offices; placing children age 6 and under in group facilities; and leaving foster children in juvenile detention facilities even though they have completed their sentence or plea because there are no places to house them in foster care. The settlement will remain in place until the state has met and maintained the settlement benchmarks for one year.