Plaintiffs, thirteen current and former foster children, brought suit against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in the Washington state Whatcom County Superior Court in August 1998. The plaintiffs brought claims under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, 42 U.S. C. §§ 671 et seq, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and numerous state statutes and regulations. We have some documents related to this case, but much of our information is from the relevant National Center for Youth Law webpage
, and from a website
set up by the oversight panel that implemented the settlement agreement.
In July 2000, the plaintiffs moved to certify a class of all children who are now or will be in the custody of DSHS foster care system and who were placed in three or more placements. In June 2001, Judge Nichols certified the class. Defendant DSHS moved for summary judgment. As a result, the trial court dismissed all claims based on procedural due process, the Washington State Constitution, and most claims based on state and federal child welfare and disability statutes.
The parties agreed to try the case before a jury, and following a seven week trial in October 2001, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs. The trial court entered a broad injunction, mandating the recruitment of new foster parents, notification prior to placement changes, arrangements to improve education, additional training and institutional support of foster parents, and increased emphasis on the preservation of sibling relationships. The trial court ordered the plaintiffs to monitor compliance.
The State appealed to the Court of Appeals, which certified the case for appeal to the Washington Supreme Court. See Braam v. State, 81 P.3d 851 (Wash. 2003). Judge Chambers for the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that foster children possessed substantive due process rights that the State was required to respect, but there was erroneous jury instruction on the State's culpability.
Upon remand, the trial court ordered the parties to mediation. The parties reached a settlement in July 2004. The settlement provided for an independent panel to collaborate with DSHS to establish benchmarks for in six identified areas. The panel released an implementation plan in February 2006. Additionally, the panel issued monitoring reports every six months.
In January 2008, the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, based on the State's failures to complete steps in the implementation plan. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on June 30, 2008, finding the State had failed to comply with the plan. In June 2009, the parties reached an agreement to provide for fees and costs for the remainder of the settlement agreement.
In 2011, DSHS and the plaintiffs modified the settlement agreement and extended the agreement until December 31, 2013. The revised agreement provides for the oversight panel to continue monitoring through 2012, and provide annual monitor reports. The agreement remains in effect after this monitoring ceases, however. Elizabeth Homan - 02/10/2013