Establishes Performance Targets and Metrics to Measure Compliance
Establishes Third Party Monitoring and Formal Reporting Structure to Child Advocate
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced a settlement agreement between the State of Rhode Island and Children's Rights, Inc., resolving a decade-long civil action that alleged deficiencies at the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF). This case was negotiated and settled with the goal of making the child welfare system better for the children in the care of DCYF and their families.
The lawsuit, filed on June 28, 2007, on behalf of a putative class of all children in the legal custody of DCYF due to a report or suspicion of abuse or neglect, alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights to substantive due process and familial association and their alleged statutory rights to adequate case plans and foster care maintenance payments.
The lawsuit alleged systemic deficiencies including excessive caseloads to its caseworkers, failure to timely and appropriately license and oversee foster care placements, failure to timely and adequately investigate abuse and neglect, failure to maintain an adequate placement array to meet the needs of all children in care, failure to provide timely and adequate case plans, and failure to provide adequate foster care maintenance payments to foster parents.
Under the terms of the settlement, DCYF will implement significant reforms in case management, child placement, and child protective services involving the investigation of abuse and neglect, establish performance metrics to measure targets and compliance, and establish a reporting structure to the Office of the Child Advocate.
"This settlement is the result of years of many individuals working towards the goal of establishing a child welfare system that puts the well-being and safety of the child first and foremost and creating measurable targets to ensure DCYF is doing all it can in the best interest of the children and families it serves," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "The agreement will serve as a roadmap for the improvement of DCYF and its care of children. This agreement, unlike other child welfare settlements that have required a special master, provides the administration flexibility in implementing the agreed upon changes, while providing measurable benchmarks to track DCYF's progress."
History of the case:
This case was first brought on June 28, 2007 by then-Child Advocate Jametta Alston and Children's Rights, Inc. Plaintiffs alleged systemic deficiencies in Rhode Island's child welfare system and raised constitutional and alleged statutory claims on behalf of themselves and a putative Class. The parties have extensively litigated this case including intensive fact and expert discovery, a 16-day trial, and two ventures to the First Circuit. On remand from the second appeal, the case was reassigned to Chief Judge William Smith. The R.I. Attorney General's Office has litigated this case from its inception and negotiated this settlement agreement on behalf of the State with the assistance of legal counsel from the EOHHS and DCYF, and was signed off by the Governor's Office. The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court. The parties filed the proposed Settlement Agreement today along with a joint motion seeking court approval of the Agreement and the scheduling of a fairness hearing before United States District Court Chief Judge William Smith.
The Attorney General's office negotiated a structure that provides DCYF Director Piccola, an expert in child welfare, with the responsibility and independence to implement the provisions of the Settlement Agreement, while maintaining the flexibility to make administrative adjustments to improve the child welfare system. The commitments and goals contained in the Settlement Agreement were developed in coordination with the staff of DCYF. The Agreement reflects all Parties' commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the children of Rhode Island. Some of the key provisions of the Settlement Agreement include:
· DCYF shall perform an assessment of every child that enters foster care or upon a placement change;
· DCYF shall not place a child in a shelter under any circumstances;
· DCYF will limit the placement of children in congregate care;
· DCYF shall strive to place siblings together;
· DCYF shall develop mechanisms to track visitation between siblings and parents;
· The settlement also establishes targets for DCYF to comply with for timeliness of investigations;
· DCYF will reassess the base rates for foster care maintenance payments and review the base rates every three years;
· DCYF shall conduct an annual assessment of events of abuse or neglect occurring in DCYF foster care;
· DCYF shall develop and implement an annual recruitment and retention plan for foster homes.
In addition to the Child Advocate, DCYF will be obtaining the services of an independent Data Validator to ensure the data and methodologies utilized in gathering the data for the settlement are in accord with the agreement and practice in the field. The Data Validator will provide periodic reports to the Office of the Child Advocate on the DCYF's targets in the Settlement Agreement and together they will be known as the Monitoring Team. In accordance with the settlement, the Child Advocate shall receive and review progress reports every six months that have been determined to be valid and reliable by the Data Validator. Terms of the settlement are considered satisfied upon achievement by DCYF to meet each condition for two six-month reporting periods.
"I would like to recognize the work of Assistant Attorney Generals Neil Kelly and Brenda Baum and Special Assistant Attorney General Ariele Yaffee and Edward Mullaney and the other attorneys and support staff from my office who litigated this case, and who successfully tried the case in federal court only to see the decision be reversed on appeal. There was nothing simple or easy about this case, and I cannot thank the staff enough for their unwavering and tireless efforts. Furthermore, this settlement is a result of their hard-fought negotiations. They obtained an innovated approach to settling such a lawsuit to improve the lives of the children and their families in our child welfare system in Rhode Island. I would also like to thank District Court Judge John McConnell who served as mediator in this case," added Kilmartin.