National Center for Youth Law

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Utah Foster Care Lawsuit Ends; Child Welfare System Cited as National Model
Court Commends Parties for Their Success


June 29, 2007

The federal District Court in Utah yesterday approved an agreement between the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and Utah officials to end a longstanding suit to reform Utah’s child welfare system.

“This is a significant milestone for Utah’s children and families who benefit from the vast improvements Utah made in caring for its abused and neglected children,” Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. said.

 U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell approved the agreement between NCYL and Utah during an afternoon hearing attended by about 40 advocates, state foster care officials, and others from the child welfare community.

NCYL and Utah officials signed an agreement to end the case, David C. v. Levitt, on May 11. All parties agree that significant and steady improvements have resulted in a child welfare system that protects the state’s abused and neglected children, and helps families get the support they need. Changes have been so dramatic that the system is now recognized by child welfare experts as a national model.

“We are proud of the significant reforms achieved through the lawsuit and we believe the parties’ most recent agreement will go a long way toward ensuring that these reforms are sustained,” said Leecia Welch, a senior attorney at NCYL and lead counsel in the case.  “It has taken many years of hard work to get where we are today and there will be many challenges ahead, but, today, the Utah child welfare community should take a moment to congratulate themselves for their tremendous achievements.”

Court approval of the parties’ agreement means that the court will no longer monitor the case. The system has been in litigation for the past 14 years.

For the past eight years, the lawsuit has been overseen by a court monitor, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, whose role also ends with court approval of the agreement. However, DCFS is subject to one final review in the fall 2008. If that review is satisfactory, the case will be dismissed permanently Dec. 31, 2008.

Some of the most significant improvements to the system in the past decade include doubling the number of caseworkers from 282 to 612; reducing caseloads to between 13 and 15 cases per worker; and an extensive caseworker training program. State child welfare administrators and workers have 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.  The provision of health care services for foster children is also considered a national model.

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 evaluate the system’s performance, promote community involvement in the child welfare system, and report their findings. In addition, Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. has formed a special Children and Family Cabinet Council charged with recommending how and what resources should be allocated to the system.

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.

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