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LaShawn A. v. Fenty

(also known as LaShawn A v. Williams, LaShawn A. v. Barry, LaShawn v. Dixon, and LaShawn v. Kelly)



89-CV-1754 (D.D.C., June 20, 1989)



762 F. Supp. 959 (D.D.C. 1991), aff'd., 990 F.2d 1319 (D.C. Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1044 (1994), appeal after remand, 69 F.3d 556 (D.C. Cir. 1995), vacated, 74 F.3d 303 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc), reh'g granted, 87 F.3d 1389 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc), aff'd, 107 F.3d 923 (D.C. Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1264 (1997); 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20997 (D. D.C. Nov. 12, 1993); 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20878 (D. D.C. Jan. 21, 1994); 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20872 (D. D.C. Jan. 28, 1994); 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 32460 (D.C. Aug. 26, 1994)  ; 887 F. Supp. 297 (D.D.C. 1995); 144 F.3d 847 (D.C. Cir. 1998); 701 F. Supp. 2d. 84 (D.D.C. 2010).






Marcia Robinson Lowry
Children's Rights, Inc.
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2210
Fax: (212) 683-4015

Arthur Spitzer
ACLU Washington National Office
1400 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 457-080
Fax: (202) 452-1868



This civil rights class action was brought on behalf of children placed in foster care under the supervision of the District of Columbia’s Department of Human Services (DHS), and abused and neglected children who are (or should be) known to DHS by virtue of abuse or neglect.  The complaint charged violations of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, due process, the District of Columbia Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Act of 1977, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and the District of Columbia Youth Residential Facilities Licensor Act of 1986.


HISTORY AND STATUS                

After a trial and a judgment of liability in August 1991, the court approved a negotiated remedial order.  The consent decree directed DHS to develop policies and procedures in the areas of protective services; family preservation and preventive services; child placement; case reviews; adoption; staffing (qualifications, training, and caseload standards); resource development (foster homes, adoptive homes, and community based services); contracts with private providers and agencies; and development of a uniform computerized information system.

In October 1994, in response to plaintiffs’ contempt motion, the court ordered the creation of a limited receivership to address specific problems.  In 1995, the judge found defendants in contempt of court and granted plaintiffs’ request for appointment of a general receiver.

In June 2001, plaintiffs and the court agreed to terminate the receivership for a probationary period (January 2003) in return for additional reforms including DHS’s creation of a new agency, the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), with cabinet-level control of child welfare matters and consolidated jurisdiction over neglect and abuse cases.  DHS also agreed to fund additional lawyers to represent the CFSA in Superior Court and a variety of child welfare reforms.

In May 2003, the monitor issued a post-Receivership Implementation Plan, a comprehensive outline for reform negotiated among plaintiffs, CFSA, the District mayor, and the court monitor.  The Plan envisioned that by December 2006 defendants would fully comply with the district court’s 1991 remedial order.

The monitor continued to assess defendants’ progress in 2004 and 2005.  At one point during this period, the District failed to maintain an adequate number of attorneys on staff, and this failure apparently led to a severe case backlog for children who had a permanency goal of adoption.  CFSA addressed the backlog, and is now required to ensure that such a backlog is not allowed to occur again.

By the December 2006 Implementation Plan deadline, despite numerous marked improvements, CFSA had failed to fully comply with several of the monitoring reform benchmarks. In February 2007, the court approved an Amended Implementation Plan, which established a new reform deadline of December 2008 and required CFSA to produce annual strategy plans in 2007 and 2008. 

Backsliding of the CFSA child welfare reform effort in 2008 prompted plaintiffs to file a contempt motion against the District in July. The motion cited chronic problems, including a large backlog of unresolved abuse and neglect investigations, failure to move children into permanent homes on a timely basis, and frequent moves for children in foster care.

In an attempt to resolve these problems, the parties negotiated a stipulated order approved by the Court in October 2008.  The stipulated order set forth a number of requirements that CFSA was to meet by January 2009. However, CFSA was unable to meet these requirements, and plaintiffs renewed their contempt motion in January 2009.

In April 2010, the court ruled on plaintiffs’ motion, holding Washington D.C. and its mayor in contempt for failure to comply with court orders requiring child welfare reform. The court also denied defendants’ motion seeking an end to court oversight. The ruling cites the District’s failure to implement an annual strategy plan approved by an independent court-appointed monitor and specifically mentions Mayor Fenty’s failure to consult with the monitor or with plaintiffs’ counsel as stipulated in the 2008 order. In addition, the ruling rejects defendants’ argument that Horne v. Flores supports termination of the consent decree.  Defendants have appealed the court’s decision.

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