The plaintiffs, children who had been made wards of the state and placed in foster homes in Illinois, brought this lawsuit on September 15, 1988, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Represented by the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, the plaintiffs sued under the Adoptive Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 620-628, 670-679. They challenged the defendants' practice of placing siblings in separate homes and denying them the opportunity to visit each other in violation of their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In 1989, the defendants moved for summary judgment. Though U.S. District Court Judge Ann C. Williams did not reject the First Amendment claim regarding the plaintiffs' right to associate with their siblings, nor the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights claims regarding plaintiff's liberty interest in their relationships with their siblings, the Judge did dismiss the claim under the Adoptive Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. Aristotle P. v. Johnson
, 721 F. Supp. 1002 (N.D. Il. 1989).
In October 1989, Judge Williams certified a class of plaintiffs consisting of children in the custody or guardianship of DCFS, who are subjects of neglect, dependency or abuse petitions and have not been placed with their siblings in foster homes, and have been denied regular and reasonable visitation with their siblings. The parties conferred on potential settlement during most of 1990-1993, and in December 1993, the parties proposed a consent decree. The following March, a notice of class action went out to all children who are subjects of abuse, neglect, or dependency positions in the Juvenile Court of Cook County. After a fairness hearing, Judge Williams approved the consent decree on March 11, 1994.
Specific provisions in the decree provided standards for the placement of children, permanency planning, mental health, education, health care, protective services, initial assessments of children, adequate food/shelter/clothing, caseload ratios, information systems, licensing, training, and quality assurance. The terms of the consent decree established minimum visitation rights for siblings who could not be placed together for well-defined reasons. DCFS must provide written notice to siblings upon a decision that they cannot have joint placements and upon any decision to change a sibling placement. Transportation subsidies are provided to foster parents who transport children and supervise sibling visitation. Agencies who contract with DCFS and who do not comply with the consent decree are subject to monetary sanctions.
In February 1997, the parties made a joint motion to extend the consent decree to 1999. On motion, parts of the consent decree were extended several more times--in particular, the parts about sibling visitation. The provisions about sibling placement ended, however, in 2003, based on the Department’s demonstration of substantial compliance.
On March 8, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a report seeking, once again, to extend the sibling visitation provisions of the decree and to seek additional relief. The plaintiffs complained that DCFS had not provided sufficient proof to establish that it was in substantial compliance with the consent decree, and outlined five major problems in DCFS's performance:
1) DCFS had tendered only about a third of its total reviews for the two-year period from March 2012 through March 2014;
2) The reviews that DCFS had render were flawed because they were based upon biased cases that were not randomly selected;
3) DCFS used its own 75% threshold as substantial compliance in reviewing a case;
4) DCFS excluded cases that were not exceptions as outlined by the decree; and
5) DCFS did not respond to the plaintiffs' request for a randomized sibling visitation study of Cook County Cases.
As a result, the plaintiffs requested that the Court extend the consent decree for two year and to do the following:
1) Order DCFS to tender all the QA reviews completed since March 2012;
2) Order DCFS to adopt a verifiable methodology or random sampling in its QA review process;
3) Order DCFS to use only the reasons that are specified in the consent decree to disqualify cases;
4) Order that DCFS amend its policy so that sanctions can be given out based on QA reviews; and
5) Order DCFS to comply with the plaintiffs' December 18, 2013 discovery request.
On February 23, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Norgle, Sr., over the defendant's objections, granted the plaintiffs' requested two-year extension and additional relief. Elizabeth Homan - 11/29/2012
Frances Hollander - 02/21/2016