Parties Agree to End Foster Care Lawsuit
Plaintiffs Praise Commitment of Governor, Child Welfare Officials
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2007
The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and Utah state officials have agreed to end a longstanding lawsuit over the state’s child welfare system. All parties have agreed that significant and steady improvements have resulted in a child welfare system that is successfully protecting the state’s abused and neglected children. The system is now recognized as a national model.
NCYL and Utah officials signed an agreement last Friday, May 11, to end the case, David C. v. Levitt. The U.S. District Court, which will hold a hearing June 28, is expected to approve the settlement.
“After 14 long years, Utah now has one of the best child welfare systems in the country. Children are safer, and they have a better chance of reaching their full potential,” said Leecia Welch, a senior attorney at NCYL and lead counsel in the case. “Other state child welfare administrators across the country can now look to Utah as a model for how to turn a child welfare system around.”
Welch commended Utah child welfare officials, particularly Lisa-Michele Church, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Human Services, “for her tremendous commitment to the protection and care of Utah’s abused and neglected children.”
“Lisa-Michele followed through, she kept her promises, and she demonstrated a high level of commitment and skill,” Welch said.
Welch also praised the work of Richard Anderson, former director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), and the “heroic efforts of the caseworkers who work every day to protect children and support families.”
For the past eight years, the lawsuit has been overseen by a court monitor, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, whose role will end June 30. However, DCFS performance is subject to one final review in fall 2008. If that review is satisfactory, the case will be dismissed Dec. 31, 2008.
The most significant improvements to the system in the past decade include the hiring of hundreds of caseworkers, a sharp reduction in caseloads, and an extensive caseworker training program. State child welfare administrators and workers have also adopted a set of key “practice skills” that focus on establishing relationships with children and parents in the system, and addressing their unique circumstances and needs. DCFS has also developed a state of the art data management system and mechanisms to measure system performance.
Since David C. was filed in 1993, the budget for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services has increased from $50 million to more than $151 million.
The system will continue to be monitored by state and regional Quality Improvement Committees composed of foster parents and youth, lawyers, mental health professionals, Court Appointed Special Advocates, and other stakeholders. These panels will closely scrutinize the system’s performance and report their findings. In addition, Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. will form a special Children and Family Cabinet Council charged with recommending how and what resources should be allocated to the system.
The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) sued the state of Utah in 1993 over its child welfare practices, calling for broad reform of the system. The system currently has about 2,300 children in foster care. There are more than 20,000 complaints of child abuse and neglect made in Utah each year.
Through the course of the litigation, Utah has transformed its system so dramatically that it is now recognized as a national model by child welfare experts. Under the settlement, DCFS agrees to sustain the reforms achieved, including:
- The “Practice Model” – which dictates certain fundamental principles of child welfare practice – remains in effect
- The allocation of sufficient financial resources
- Sufficient caseworker training and reasonable caseloads
- A willingness to be open to external and internal scrutiny and evaluation
“I commend the National Center for Youth Law for its courage in bringing this case, and in pursuing it so persistently,” said Stephen Clark of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough in Salt Lake City, who is co-counsel in the case. “I think this is a victory for everyone, especially the children of Utah.”
Children in the case were represented by Leecia Welch and John O’Toole of the National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, CA; Stephen Clark of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Gregory Dresser of Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Francisco, CA.