State, City and Child Plaintiffs Settle Foster Care Lawsuit
Governor Cuomo, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, and child plaintiffs today announced a series of measures being taken by the state to better protect foster children. The measures are the result of a recently settled class action alleging harm to children in New York City’s foster care system.
“The care and protection of vulnerable children must be one of society’s highest priorities. Today we are making that a reality for the tens of thousands of children in the New York City foster care system,” said Governor Cuomo. “This case is about compassion and the true nature of human justice, and Public Advocate James and the plaintiffs should be commended for drawing attention to this issue. I am proud that we are taking this action, because it is the right thing to do.”
"We took legal action to put an end to injustice in the foster care system that has been ignored for far too long. Our agreement with the State will result in real reform and oversight. This is a big step forward to protecting our most vulnerable children. We thank Governor Cuomo for his partnership in understanding the urgency with which we must fix this broken system," said Public Advocate Letitia James.
The city’s foster care system is administered by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and overseen by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). As a result of this settlement, OCFS will retain a monitor to work with the Public Advocate’s Office and the plaintiffs to review and evaluate the city’s foster care system. OCFS will also require ACS to retain a research expert, who will conduct annual case record reviews. The full settlement is available here; additional details are summarized below.
"New York State and Plaintiffs agree: New York City children in foster care deserve rigorous oversight over whether they are getting the protections and benefits they are entitled to under the law,” said Marcia Lowry, Executive Director of A Better Childhoodand co-counsel on the lawsuit along with the law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore. “Our laws require foster children be afforded a safe and permanent family where they can grow and thrive. This legally enforceable Consent Decree represents a partnership that will provide meaningful improvement.”
The steps outlined in the agreement include:
- Commitment to reform: Under the agreement, New York State and the Plaintiffs all agree that children in the New York City foster care system should be protected from maltreatment, provided with permanent homes and families within a reasonable time, and provided with foster placements and services that promote their well-being. The agreement aims to effectuate these goals.
- Appointment of a Monitor: A Monitor, to be paid for by the State, will be retained for at least three years, and potentially beyond, to support compliance with relevant federal and State laws, regulations and policies. The monitor will produce bi-annual reports evaluating (a) the foster care placement process in New York City, (b) any potential causes of maltreatment of children in foster care in New York City and ways to lower the rate of such maltreatment, (c) the availability and appropriateness of services in the foster care system, and (d) the recruitment of an appropriate and sufficient array of placements, including potential permanent families, for such children.
- Appointment of a NYC Research Expert: A Research Expert will be retained by ACS with the State and the Plaintiffs’ approval, for at least two years, and potentially beyond, to perform confidential case record reviews of children in the custody of ACS to determine compliance with relevant federal and State laws, regulations and policies relating to safety, permanency and well-being of foster children.
- Implementation of Corrective Action Plans: If the Monitor or the Research Expert finds there is any substantial non-compliance with applicable laws, regulations or policies, either OCFS directly or ACS under OCFS’ oversight, will determine whether any corrective action is necessary and, if so, require the implementation of corrective action plans. Plaintiffs will have an opportunity to comment on any proposed corrective action plans that are developed as a result of the Monitor’s quarterly reports or the Research Expert’s biannual aggregate reports.
The plaintiffs can return to court to enforce the settlement’s terms. The City of New York and ACS are not parties to the agreement, and that portion of the lawsuit will move forward in Court.