Settlement Will Correct Systemic Wrongdoing by DCFS
A judgment was entered today, October 19, 2017, in Los Angeles Superior Court in a landmark lawsuit filed by three former foster parents and the nonprofit organization Advokids. Filed in November 2014, the lawsuit, titled Advokids et al. v. Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Read the petition here.
(Case # BS150163) alleges that for many years Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) routinely failed to comply with the law in providing foster parents with written notices of court hearings concerning the children in their care and written notices and an opportunity to object and be heard when foster children are removed from their homes. The judgment will require a number of reforms in how DCFS communicates with foster parents and other caregivers.
One of Plaintiffs attorneys, Robert Jacobs, said, “It took a 3-year fight to get to this day but at long last, foster families will get respect they are entitled to by law. Our evidence was overwhelming that foster parents and grandparents raising kids were routinely deprived of their rights while foster kids frequently bounced from home to home or went without needed services. ”
The judgment was entered as part of a settlement approved unanimously by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on October 3, 2017, and signed today by Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobe). The stipulated judgment requires that in the future DCFS employees use a particular computer program designed to ensure that hearing notices and other forms will be sent to current caregivers and Foster Family Agencies, informing them about upcoming court hearings involving foster children in their care. The judgment also requires that DCFS employees use another specified computer program to ensure that foster parents receive seven-day advance notice of the agency’s plan to remove a foster child unless DCFS has documented lawful reasons for not sending such notice.
Another of plaintiffs’ attorneys, Robert Newman, explained that, “if we are going to attract good people to do the difficult work of helping children heal, and keeping them safe until they can be reunited with their families, we must treat foster parents with respect. That means recognizing their legal rights.”
DCFS supervises over 20,000 neglected, abused, abandoned and orphaned children. Los Angeles could be called the nation’s foster care capital city. One-fifth of the nation’s foster children reside in the state, the majority of them in L.A. County. These children are cared for at taxpayer expense by relatives and nearly 6,500 foster parents.
Deborah Dentler, another of plaintiffs’ attorneys, said “the foster parent community and several wonderful social workers” kept in touch with her for years, anxiously awaiting implementation of reforms expected to occur as a result of the lawsuit.
Advokids Executive Director Margaret Coyne said the lawsuit was initiated after a little girl’s death in 2011 galvanized the caregiver community. “Foster parents said ‘enough, this has to stop!’ Since that terrible tragedy, my organization has continued to hear of cases where judges make decisions in the dark, unaware the child has a knowledgeable caregiver with valuable information to give, who didn’t receive notice or was told to stay outside the courthouse door.” Coyne explained that “Advokids tried for years to bring about reforms at DCFS through discussion, letter-writing, and meetings…to no avail. ”
The lawsuit sought an injunction and other court orders requiring DCFS to comply with its legal duties to caregivers of the County’s foster children.
Representatives from Advokids and the individual foster parents and adoptive parents participating in the lawsuit, Heather Whelan, Carrie Chung, and Patrick J. Guske, are available to the media on request. Advokids operates the only free telephone hotline in California (877.238.4543) providing free legal information and support to anyone concerned about the well-being of a child in foster care or at risk of entering foster care. The organization is committed to protecting children from abuse, neglect and trauma by improving access to the juvenile courts and making sure that potentially life-saving information about children at risk is brought to the court’s attention. For more information, visit Advokids.org.
Attorneys Dan Stormer, Robert Newman, Robert Jacobs, Deborah Dentler are the lawyers handling the case and may be reached at the contact information shown above. Advokids founder, Janet G.
Sherwood, a child welfare law specialist, is also available to the media on request and can be reached at (415) 924-0587.