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ACLU Requests That DC Government Be Held in Contempt;
Asks Court to Put Foster Care System in Receivership
May 6 Hearing Could Find District Government in Widespread
Non-Compliance With Court Orders to Protect Children In Its Care
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 1994
WASHINGTON, May 4 -- The Children's Rights Project of the American
Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal judge to find the District of
Columbia in contempt and to put aspects of its foster care system into the
hands of a temporary receivership.
The request, made in a motion filed on April 28 in LaShawn v. Sharon
Pratt Kelly, et al, asks Judge Thomas Hogan of U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia to hold Mayor Kelly and the District in contempt for
"widespread non-compliance" with court orders mandating improvements in
the Child and Family Services Division of the Department of Human
The Children's Rights Project also requests that Judge Hogan to
appoint temporary receivers with authority to bring the District into
compliance with specific mandates of the court. A hearing on the contempt
motion will be held at 2 P.M. on May 6 in courtroom 9 of the federal
courthouse at 3rd and Constitution.
"The District is displaying an alarming disregard for the law and
their legal obligations to the children in their care," said Marcia
Robinson Lowry, Director of the Children's Rights Project.
"We have no choice," she continued, "but to ask that responsibility
for DC's most vulnerable children be taken out of the District's hands and
given to someone who will be able to get the job done."
In its motion to the court, the Children's Rights Project provided
evidence to show that the District is failing to meet court mandates in
critical areas, including the following:
Reducing Caseloads and Hiring and Retaining a Stable Workforce.
Current caseloads of 50 children per caseworker are four times the 12
children per worker mandated by the court. The District has hired 196 new
caseworkers but lost 98 workers over the past two years. The ACLU motion
says "its failure to hire sufficient staff to reduce caseloads to a
manageable -- and legally mandated -- level makes it inevitable that
workers will continue to leave."
Keeping Children in Illegal Placements. Many children in the District
are kept illegally for long periods of time in facilities set up to
provide short-term care. Currently, 380 children have been placed in
unlicensed foster homes or facilities and 136 children in overcrowded
Children Without Adoptive Homes. The District is not aggressively
seeking new adoptive homes as ordered by the Court. Children whom
caseworkers determine should be placed for adoption are waiting nine
months or longer before the government finds adoptive homes. It is unclear
exactly how many children fall into this category: Progress Reports cite
262 children, with the District admitting to at least 51 children in this
category. The District explains its failure in this area by hypothesizing
-- without specific information -- that the children's needs may be too
severe or that "the child may not want it ..."
The severity of the District's non-compliance in such areas has
prompted the unusual request for a court-appointed temporary receiver. A
key concern, the Children's Rights Project said, is the District's
inability to hire and maintain an adequate workforce. The lack of such a
workforce is described as "a problem that feeds on itself ... It is a
problem that the defendants have demonstrated they are incapable of
addressing." The temporary receiver would have the responsibility and
authority to make sure steps are taken to immediately hire 145 workers to
The Children's Rights Project lawsuit, begun in 1979, has forced many
improvements in D.C.'s foster care system, which was found to violate the
Constitutional rights of children in its care in 1991. "The District has
lowered caseloads from extraordinarily high levels, has made positive
changes in its adoption program and its child welfare system," Lowry said.
"But the improvements are inadequate and very far behind schedule. These
children can wait no longer."
The Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union
is the oldest and largest national program using litigation, education
and advocacy to reform child welfare systems and to improve services for
America's most vulnerable children and families.
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