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ACLU Settles Class-Action Suit Against Connecticut;
Child Welfare System Completely Restructured
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 21, 1990
A mediation panel appointed by a federal court today submitted
a binding and exhaustive plan that completely restructures the
Connecticut child welfare system and provides for constant
judicial oversight of its foster care system. The settlement ends
a class-action lawsuit filed only a year ago against the state by
the American Civil Liberties Union.
Under the settlement, which is the broadest and most
comprehensive decree ever recorded in the area of foster care,
Connecticut is required to follow all the recommendations made by
the court-appointed panel, including decisions about caseload
levels, staff training, funding, case management, medical and
mental health care, and basic organizational and policy matters.
The settlement must still be considered by another federal judge
on January 7, but all parties expect approval.
"This settlement creates a model system and guarantees funding
to pay for it," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the Director of the
ACLU's national Children's Rights Project, which filed the
lawsuit with the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union.
Lowry said this settlement should serve as a warning for other
cities and states with negligent foster care systems. In New York
City, for example, the ACLU's Children's Rights Project has a
contempt motion pending with a federal judge in which it asks
that New York's foster care system be put in receivership. A
hearing on the case is scheduled for January 25.
The ACLU has statewide cases pending in Kansas, New Mexico,
Louisiana and the District of Columbia. It also has cases pending
in Kansas City, Missouri, in New York City, and in Philadelphia.
The legal director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union,
Martha Stone, said the proposed decree, "will force the State of
Connecticut to become a responsible parent to the thousands of
children who are placed into its care each year after their own
parents have failed them."
The deficiences in Connecticut's system, said Shelley Geballe,
a counsel to the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, are
particularly egregious given that the state has the highest per-
capita income of any state in the country.
"This decree insures that the state will provide, at long last,
the most basic essentials to its abused and neglected children,"
Geballe said. "Those essentials include protection from harm, the
security of a home and loving caregivers and appropriate medical
and mental health care."
The class-action lawsuit against Connecticut, which was filed
on December 18, 1989, charged that "Connecticut's child welfare
system endangers children it is charged to protect, causes harm
to children it is charged to help and has been allowed to
deteriorate to a state of systemic, ongoing crisis. This crisis
has caused, and is causing, irreparable injury to the thousands
of children involved therein."
The 120-page consent decree was issued by a three-member,
court-appointed panel that was chaired by Robert C. Zampano, the
Senior United States District Judge in Hartford. The ACLU-
appointed expert was Dr. Theodore Stein of the State University
of New York at Albany and the Connecticut-appointed expert was
Patricia Wilson-Coker, the head of Protective Services for the
Connecticut Department of Children and Youth Services.
The decree is essentially an operating manual for the
Connecticut Department of Children and Youth Services. And in a
one-paragraph section on funding, the decree says that the state
must pay for and fund "the costs for the establishment,
implementation, compliance, maintenance and monitoring of all
mandates in the consent decree."
The consent decree overhauls the department and lays out a
detailed blueprint for its operations. Its requirements include:
o The establishment of a training academy for current and
future employees of the department.
o The formation of a health-management unit.
o Specific time periods within which actions must be taken in a
o A limit on the number of cases each worker can handle at any
o Improvements in recruitment and retention efforts for foster
and adoptive homes, including a greatly expanded system of
support for these caregivers.
In an effort to resolve their disputes without lengthy and
expensive litigation, the parties to the class-action suit agreed
to the mediation panel in July 1990. They agreed that the panel
was "empowered to resolve and submit fair and just settlement
terms on each issue."
Over the next five months, the mediation panel listened to
testimony from hundreds of people, conducted four public hearings
and reviewed numerous documents in its effort to shape a
resolution to the class-action suit in which Connecticut was
charged with a failure to provide several basic services,
o Adequate protection for abused and neglected children,
including the investigation of all reports of abuse and neglect.
o Services to families to prevent removal of children from the
o Minimally adequate and appropriate attention to the needs of
all the children in its custody, including medical care.
o Assuring permanent placements for children in its custody.
Nine children were named as plaintiffs in the suit, which was
brought on their behalf by a broad coalition that represented the
diverse interests of Connecticut's child welfare community. Their
stories catalogued an agency in crisis, one that was unable to
meet its mandates under federal and state laws.
Fourteen-year-old Florence J., a named plaintiff in the suit,
for example, was referred to the Department of Children and Youth
Services in June 1980 after she had been diagnosed with
gonorrhea. The department left her in the care of her mother,
however, after its cursory "investigation" revealed no clear
explanation for the condition.
In December 1981, a hospital again referred Florence to the
department for investigation of possible sexual abuse after she was
found to have a vaginal discharge and an enlarged vaginal opening.
The department placed Florence temporarily with her grandmother,
then returned her to her mother when it decided it could not
establish the identity of the person who had abused her.
This pattern was to continue over the years, as Florence moved
in and out of temporary placement. When the case was filed, she
was back in her mother's care with certain conditions, including
that her father move out of the home and the whole family receive
counselling. Though both DCYS staff and outside experts have
recommended intensive counselling for Florence to try to repair
the damage done to her over the years, she has received none to
"This horrible story is indicative of the negligence and
neglect that have faced some of Connecticut's poorest children,"
said Lowry of the ACLU's Children's Rights Project. "We are very
hopeful that this pattern of neglect will soon be over."