New York Law Journal: Legal Providers Critical of Foster Care Pact with State

Legal service providers on Wednesday denounced the terms of a proposed settlement of a class action suit in which the state has agreed to hire a monitor to review New York City’s foster care system.

The class action, Elisa W. v. City of New York, 15-cv-5273, was brought by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and 10 foster children in July.

The city and its Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the state and its Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), and the heads of those agencies are named as defendants.

The state has entered into a settlement agreement but the city and ACS did not sign the consent decree and thus the case against them will move forward.

Speaking at a news conference at the Legal Aid Society’s Manhattan office, representatives from various legal service agencies not involved in the litigation said a state-appointed monitor would add an unnecessary layer of oversight to the system, noting the state already has regulatory oversight of the city’s child welfare agency.

foster-care-settlementLegal service providers gathered Wednesday to denounce the state’s proposed settlement of a suit filed on behalf of foster children. From left, Mary Anne Mendenhall, Bronx Defenders; Stacy Charland, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem; Lauren Shapiro, Brooklyn Defender Services; Tamara Steckler, Legal Aid Society; Susan Jacobs, Center for Family Representation; and Karen Freedman, Lawyers for Children.
NYLJ/Rick Kopstein

“I don’t see the need for another bureaucratic layer that will only serve to slow down the system,” said Tamara Steckler, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice.

The legal service providers also said the consent decree, filed on Tuesday, would cause foster children to surrender their due process rights. They said the agreement contains a covenant that prevents additional foster care-related class-action suits against the state while the agreement is in effect.

Joining Legal Aid in deriding the agreement were Lawyers for Children, the Children’s Law Center, the Bronx Defenders, the Center for Family Representation, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Brooklyn Defender Services. They collectively represent more than 90 percent of the children and parents in the foster care system, the representatives said.

According to the suit, children spend twice as much time in the city’s foster care system as children in foster care in the rest of the country and that, according to federal data, it takes longer for the city to return children to their parents than it takes other government foster care systems.

Additionally, the plaintiffs allege, the more than 11,000 children in city foster care, which make up the majority of the foster children in the state, are subjected to a system with “one of the worst rates of maltreatment in foster care of any jurisdiction in this country.”

“Foster care is supposed to be safe and temporary,” the suit contends. “For children in New York City’s foster care system, it is neither. Children in New York City’s foster care system are in one of the most dangerous foster care systems in the country, and they spend longer in foster care than do foster children almost anywhere else in the country.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the state’s monitor would be retained for three years. The state also would appoint a research expert to review confidential case files. If the monitor or the researcher finds that the agency broke laws or regulations, they can set forth corrective action plans.

James said in an email to the Law Journal that the settlement would bring critical reforms. “We can no longer wait for change at a glacial pace when our most vulnerable children are suffering.”

By Andrew Denney

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