In 1989, Children's Rights and the ACLU filed a federal class action on behalf of children placed in foster care under the supervision of the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services (DHS), and abused and neglected children who are (or should be) known to DHS by virtue of abuse or neglect. The case asserted violations of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, due process, the District of Columbia Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Act of 1977, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and the District of Columbia Youth Residential Facilities Licensor Act of 1986.
In 1991, Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S District Court, District of Columbia, approved a negotiated remedial order following trial and a liability judgment against the defendant. LaShawn A. v. Dixon, 762 F. Supp. 959 (D.D.C. 1991). Under the consent decree DHS agreed to develop policies and procedures in the areas of protective services; family preservation and preventive services; child placement; case reviews; adoption; staffing (qualifications, training, and caseload standards); resource development (foster homes, adoptive homes, and community based services); contracts with private providers and agencies; and development of a uniform computerized information system.
The decision was appealed and remanded a number of times. The District of Columbia argued that the remedy sought by the plaintiffs could not be provided under federal law; the Court of Appeals instructed the district court to modify the consent order to be based entirely on local law. LaShawn A. by Moore v. Kelly, 990 F.2d 1319 (D.C. Cir. 1993). The district court kept the entire content of the order finding that local law provided adequate support for the measures in the decree.
In October 1994, the plaintiffs filed a contempt motion, and the court ordered the creation of a limited receivership to address specific problems. In 1995, the judge found defendants in contempt of court and granted plaintiffs' request for appointment of a general receiver who would run the department. LaShawn A. v. Kelly, 887 F. Supp. 297 (D.D.C. 1995).
The district made another appeal, this time regarding orders of receivership. The Court of Appeals found two orders moot, but held that the district court could not direct the receiver to disregard District law even if it interfered with the receiver's discharge of her responsibilities. LaShawn A. v. Barry, 107 F.3d 923 (D.C. Cir. 1996).
In June 2001, the parties proposed and the court agreed to terminate the receivership and appoint a monitor, instead, along with implementing additional reforms, including the District's creation of a new agency, the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), with cabinet-level control of child welfare matters and consolidated jurisdiction over neglect and abuse cases. The District also agreed to fund additional lawyers to represent the CFSA in Superior Court and a variety of child welfare reforms.
In May 2003, the monitor issued a post-Receivership Implementation Plan, a comprehensive outline for reform negotiated among plaintiffs, CFSA, the District mayor, and the court monitor. The Plan envisioned that by December 2006 defendants would fully comply with the district court's 1991 remedial order.
The monitor continued to assess defendants' progress in 2004 and 2005. At one point during this period, the District failed to maintain an adequate number of attorneys on staff, and this failure apparently led to a severe case backlog for children who had a permanency goal of adoption. CFSA addressed the backlog, and is now required to ensure that such a backlog not recur.
In December 2006 (the Implementation Plan deadline), despite numerous marked improvements, CFSA had failed to comply fully with several benchmarks. Accordingly, in February 2007, the court approved a jointly-submitted Amended Implementation Plan, which established a new reform deadline of December 2008 and required CFSA to produce annual strategy plans in 2007 and 2008.
Setbacks in the reform effort prompted plaintiffs to file a contempt motion against the District in July 2008. The motion cited chronic problems, including a large backlog of unresolved abuse and neglect investigations, failure to move children into permanent homes on a timely basis, and frequent moves for children in foster care.
In an attempt to resolve these problems, the parties negotiated yet another stipulated order, approved by the Court in October 2008. The stipulated order set forth a number of requirements that CFSA was to meet by January 2009. However, CFSA was unable to meet these requirements, and plaintiffs renewed their contempt motion in January 2009.
In April 2010, the court ruled on plaintiffs' motion, holding the District and its mayor in contempt. LaShawn A. ex rel. Moore v. Fenty, 701 F. Supp. 2d 84 (D.D.C. 2010). The ruling cited the District's failure to implement an annual strategy plan approved by the court-appointed monitor and specifically mentioned Mayor Adrian Fenty's failure to consult with the monitor or with plaintiffs' counsel as stipulated in the 2008 order. In addition, the court rejected defendants' argument that under Horne v. Flores, 129 S.Ct. 2579 (2009), the consent decree should be terminated altogether. The court also ordered that more funds be allocated to assist children aging out of the foster care system. Defendants appealed the district court's decision; the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in February 2011. LaShawn A. ex rel. Moore v. Gray, 412 F. App'x 315 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
In December 2010, the Court approved another Implementation and Exit Plan, superseding the 2007 Amended Implementation Plan. This document set forth which outcomes needed to be maintained, which outcomes still needed to be achieved, and a strategy plan for exiting the consent decree. In accordance with this new plan, CFSA developed strategy plans in each year since 2012 to develop means to achieve compliance and exit. Regular six-month monitoring reports continue to be filed.
As of the date of this summary, CFSA has not exited from the consent decree, and its progress continues to be monitored.Ariana Fink - 12/04/2012
Dan Whitman - 11/29/2015