Children's Rights and District of Columbis Agree to Transition Plan from...

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PRESS RELEASE

Federal judge approves plan creating cabinet-level agency responsible for abuse and neglect, consolidating licensing, personnel, and procurement in new agency.

All parties in a federal lawsuit have agreed to a transition plan that could end the federal court receivership of the District of Columbia's child welfare system. The U.S. District Court placed the District of Columbia's child welfare system in full receivership in 1995 in LaShawn A. v. Williams, a class action lawsuit filed in 1989 on behalf of children in the District's child welfare system. Children's Rights, the national advocacy organization representing plaintiff children in that lawsuit, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams, joined in presenting their mutually-agreed plan to the court today.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the presiding judge in the LaShawn lawsuit, approved the consent order that allows the District to begin recruiting a new administrator immediately and provides for an orderly transition to end the receivership on the following terms and conditions:

*The enactment of legislation that will unify all neglect and abuse investigations and services within a single child welfare agency, the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA").
The establishment of the child welfare agency as a cabinet-level agency.
*Moving the responsibility for personnel, contracting, licensing of foster and group homes and the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children into that agency.
*The development of licensing standards for foster homes and group homes.

In the hearing on the order, Judge Hogan said he did not take this action lightly and called it a "leap of faith" based on District of Columbia Mayor Williams's personal commitment to implement the order. A description of the consent order is attached.

"The children of the District are the potential winners today," stated Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights. "This transition plan commits the District government to making much-needed structural changes that it has long resisted. Some of the changes were introduced under the receivership but would have disappeared if the receivership ended; other changes were beyond the receiver's authority. The District has finally agreed to make all these changes permanent.

"The District government first proved unable to protect its children and then resisted the receivership created to do that job in its place," Lowry continued. "The District is now being given the opportunity to demonstrate it is ready to take on this responsibility. We will be watching very closely during the probationary period. If the District meets its commitments under this plan, then we will have better safeguards in place to protect children and improved services to care for them. If the District fails, it will have to show why it should not be held in contempt of court and why a receivership should not be re-imposed."

Lowry also stated: "We commend the current receiver, Ernestine Jones, for her extraordinary work in laying the foundation that makes this transition plan possible."

Under the transition plan, a new administrator will be selected by the Mayor with the concurrence of the Court Monitor and plaintiffs. Once the legislation is passed, the licensing standards finalized, and an administrator and an adequate management team selected, the receivership will end and a probation period begin.

If the agency's compliance improves according to agreed-upon standards during the first six months of probation, or during a four-month extension, probation will end and the LaShawn court order will go back into effect according to an agreed-upon implementation plan. If compliance does not improve, the District will have the burden of demonstrating to the court why it should not be held in contempt and why a receivership should not be imposed.

In addition, throughout the duration of the LaShawn court order the District agreed that:

*CFSA will be exempt from any District-wide budget cuts, furloughs, or personnel reductions that might otherwise be imposed during the time the LaShawn court order remains in effect.
*The mayor will take all reasonable steps to obtain passage of an annual CFSA budget based on the 2001 "implementation" budget of $184 million, with annual increases as necessary to ensure implementation of the LaShawn court order, unless the District can demonstrate that compliance with the order can be achieved with a lower budget.
*An adequately-staffed CFSA legal unit will be established within the Office of Corporation Counsel, with the CFSA Administrator participating in the selection and evaluation of those lawyers, and with the lawyers having greater involvement with the CFSA workers, and with a method developed to resolve disputes between the lawyers and the CFSA workers.
*The new administrator, in consultation with the Court Monitor and others, will select an independent advisory group of experts, so long as private funds can be raised to fund this.
*The agreement marks a cooperative and constructive approach to this case with both sides expressing the commitment to work together toward a common goal: protecting the District's most vulnerable children.

Children's Rights works throughout the United States in partnership with national and local experts, advocates and government officials to document the needs of children in the care of child welfare systems. Children's Rights helps develop realistic solutions and, where necessary, uses the power of litigation to ensure that reform takes place.

# # #

DESCRIPTION OF LA SHAWN CONSENT ORDER

The United States District Court placed the District of Columbia's child welfare system in full receivership in 1995 in LaShawn A. v Williams, a class action lawsuit filed in 1989 on behalf of children in the District's child welfare system. The consent order approved by Judge Hogan provides for an end to the receivership and allows the District to begin recruiting immediately a new administrator to head this agency. The administrator will be selected by the Mayor with the concurrence of the plaintiffs and the Court Monitor.

According to the consent order, the receivership will end on the following terms and conditions:

*The enactment of legislation that will unify all neglect and abuse investigations and services within a single child welfare agency, the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA").

*The establishment of the child welfare agency as a cabinet-level agency.

*Moving the responsibility for personnel, contracting, licensing of foster and group homes and the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children into that agency.

*The development and promulgation of licensing standards for foster homes and group homes.

In addition, the District agreed that:

*CFSA will be exempt from any District-wide budget cuts, furloughs, or personnel reductions that might otherwise be imposed during the time the LaShawn court order remains in effect.

*The mayor will take all reasonable steps to obtain passage of an annual CFSA budget based on the 2001 "implementation" budget of $184 million, with annual increases as necessary to ensure implementation of the LaShawn court order, unless compliance can be achieved with a lower budget.

*An adequately-staffed CFSA legal unit will be established within the Office of Corporation Counsel, with the CFSA Administrator participating in the selection and evaluation of those lawyers, and with the lawyers having greater involvement with the CFSA workers, and with a method developed to resolve disputes between the lawyers and the CFSA workers.

*The new administrator, with consultation from the Monitor and others, will select an independent expert group, so long as private funds can be raised to fund this.

*The new administrator will be selected by the mayor with the concurrence of the court monitor and plaintiffs. Once the legislation is passed, the licensing standards finalized, and an administrator and an adequate management team selected, the receivership will end and a probation period begin.

*If the agency's compliance improves according to agreed-upon standards during the first six months of probation, or during a four month extension, probation will end and the court order will go back into effect according to an agreed-upon implementation plan. If compliance does not improve, the District will have the burden of demonstrating why it should not be held in contempt and why a receivership should not be imposed.

Children's Rights works throughout the United States in partnership with national and local experts, advocates and government officials to document the needs of children in the care of child welfare systems. Children's Rights helps develop realistic solutions and, where necessary, uses the power of litigation to ensure that reform takes place.
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