National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Sheila A. v. Whiteman
also known as Sheila A. v. Finney, Sheila A. v. Haden, and J.D.B. v. Barton

Plaintiffs alleged that the Kansas child welfare system violated Title IV-E, the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the Federal Due Process Clause, the Kansas Code for Care of Children, and the Kansas Constitution. The Kansas system had a number of serious deficiencies and had the highest recidivism in the country, with children who had been in foster care and were returned to their parents often returning to the system.

Overview

FILE NO., COURT AND DATE FILED

No. 89-CV-33 (Dist. Ct. of Shawnee, Kansas, Division 4, Sept. 1, 1990)

CITATIONS

253 Kan. 793, 861 P.2d 120 (Kan. 1993); 259 Kan. 549, 913 P.2d 181 (Kan. 1996)

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Marcia Robinson Lowry
Children’s Rights, Inc.
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2210
Fax: (212) 683-4015
mlowry@childrensrights.org

Rene Netherton
1603 SW 37th Street
Topeka, KS 66611
(785) 267-6767
Fax: (785) 267-6768

Shook, Hardy & Bacon
84 Corporate Woods
10801 Mastin, Suite 1000
Overland Park, KS 66210
(913) 451-6060
Fax: (913) 451-8879

Jerry Palmer
Palmer, Leatherman & White LLP
627 SW Topeka Boulevard
Topeka, KS 66603
(785) 233-1836
Fax: (785) 233-3703
palmerjer@jpalmerlaw.com

HISTORY AND STATUS

In January 1989, a Topeka child guardian filed a class action suit (J.D.B. v. Barton) against the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) that focused on lack of adequate placements for children entering foster care. The ACLU Children’s Rights Project entered the lawsuit in September 1989 by filing a motion to amend, which added the governor as a defendant and additional named plaintiffs from throughout the state.

Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification was granted, and SRS’s motion to dismiss was denied. The lower court held that Kansas children can (1) enforce provisions of Title IV-E in Kansas state court; (2) seek judicial relief under CAPTA, which requires states to respond to reports of suspected abuse or neglect in a timely and adequate manner; and (3) seek relief for violations of the provisions of the Kansas Code for Children.

In June 1992, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Title IV-E claims, based on Suter v. Artist M. The motion was granted in October 1992. Defendant Governor Finney filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on June 15, 1992, which was granted on August 20, 1992. Plaintiffs appealed.

While the appeal was pending, the parties reached a settlement agreement in June 1993. The settlement agreement mandated wholesale changes in the Kansas child welfare system. Implementation of reforms under the settlement began on January 1, 1994. Pursuant to the agreement, an internal departmental quality assurance unit was established to assess compliance and an independent state auditing agency, the Legislative Division of Post Audit, also was charged with conducting ongoing performance audits assessing the Department’s compliance with the agreement.

On April 24, 1997, a motion to change the judge was filed. On April 29, 1997, Judge Buchele removed himself from the case. The new judge, Judge Yeoman, appointed a Special Task Force “to facilitate resolution of foster care issues in Kansas.”

Because of the State’s success in implementing the settlement agreement, the state exited from the agreement on June 30, 2002. SRS and plaintiffs agreed to replace the settlement agreement with internal monitoring from SRS’s Quality Assurance Unit. The Unit is responsible for overseeing the quality of SRS’s supervision of children.