Center for the Study of Social Policy - 40 Years of Innovation
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Class Action Reform

Class action lawsuits are often used to remedy the policies, practices and lack of resources that lead to poor outcomes for children and families involved with public child welfare agencies. But litigation can also create an adversarial process that impedes lasting reform.

In response, CSSP works with states and other jurisdictions to advance a productive approach to class action lawsuits – one that helps build stronger public systems that help achieve better results for children in foster care and their families.

For example, to help reforms stay on track, CSSP serves as court-appointed monitor in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina. It also provides technical assistance to child welfare systems in Tennessee and Connecticut to help meet court-ordered settlement agreements.  CSSP also helps facilitate dispute resolution through problem solving and mediation in Washington State, Baltimore City and Las Vegas, and Jackson County, Missouri.

What Results Has the Work Generated?

  • In DeKalb and Fulton counties in Georgia, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the children who have entered custody since a class action lawsuit was filed in October 2005 have left foster care to permanent living arrangements with families. Seventy percent of those children who were in custody before October 2005 have exited to permanency.

  • New Jersey has dramatically changed its child welfare system since work began on a Modified Settlement Agreement in 2007. Hundreds of new caseworkers have been hired and trained to bring caseloads to court-mandated standards. Also, access to health care for children entering out-of-home placement has improved -- all children now receive a pre-placement assessment, and 97 percent receive a comprehensive medical examination within 60 days of placement.

    The state has also reorganized services to youth with significant behavioral health needs and substantially increased resources in New Jersey, thus reducing placements in out-of-state treatment facilities from 314 children in 2006 to 34 by mid-2010.

    Aggressive action to recruit, license and retain foster parents has resulted in the licensing of more than 7,000 new homes since 2005, which has greatly reduced the number of vulnerable children placed in shelters and congregate facilities.
  • While the District of Columbia still struggles to meet court-ordered requirements for child welfare system performance, CSSP has helped the District create a cabinet-level child welfare agency and a Family Court. In addition, the District has been successful in maintaining low caseloads (less than 15 cases per worker) and has established the Healthy Families Thriving Communities Collaboratives, which organize and provide community-based  supports and services that help keep children and families out of the child welfare system in the first place.  

More information on results and challenges can be found in the website's publications section and in the most recent reports to the Federal Court listed below. 

Class Action Reform

Stay Informed

lessons learned: class action litigation

Lessons Learned

For 40 years, class action litigation has been used to address difficult and long-standing problems in public child welfare systems. For the Welfare of Children: Lessons Learned from Class Action Litigation brings together a series of papers authored by top experts to address the many factors that increase the likelihood that litigation will result in successful system reform.

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