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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Requests That DC Government Be Held in Contempt; Asks Court to Put Foster Care System in Receivership May 6 Hearing Could Find District Government in Widespread Non-Compliance With Court Orders to Protect Children In Its Care For IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 4, 1994 WASHINGTON, May 4 -- The Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal judge to find the District of Columbia in contempt and to put aspects of its foster care system into the hands of a temporary receivership. The request, made in a motion filed on April 28 in LaShawn v. Sharon Pratt Kelly, et al, asks Judge Thomas Hogan of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to hold Mayor Kelly and the District in contempt for "widespread non-compliance" with court orders mandating improvements in the Child and Family Services Division of the Department of Human Services. The Children's Rights Project also requests that Judge Hogan to appoint temporary receivers with authority to bring the District into compliance with specific mandates of the court. A hearing on the contempt motion will be held at 2 P.M. on May 6 in courtroom 9 of the federal courthouse at 3rd and Constitution. "The District is displaying an alarming disregard for the law and their legal obligations to the children in their care," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Director of the Children's Rights Project. "We have no choice," she continued, "but to ask that responsibility for DC's most vulnerable children be taken out of the District's hands and given to someone who will be able to get the job done." In its motion to the court, the Children's Rights Project provided evidence to show that the District is failing to meet court mandates in critical areas, including the following: Reducing Caseloads and Hiring and Retaining a Stable Workforce. Current caseloads of 50 children per caseworker are four times the 12 children per worker mandated by the court. The District has hired 196 new caseworkers but lost 98 workers over the past two years. The ACLU motion says "its failure to hire sufficient staff to reduce caseloads to a manageable -- and legally mandated -- level makes it inevitable that workers will continue to leave." Keeping Children in Illegal Placements. Many children in the District are kept illegally for long periods of time in facilities set up to provide short-term care. Currently, 380 children have been placed in unlicensed foster homes or facilities and 136 children in overcrowded homes. Children Without Adoptive Homes. The District is not aggressively seeking new adoptive homes as ordered by the Court. Children whom caseworkers determine should be placed for adoption are waiting nine months or longer before the government finds adoptive homes. It is unclear exactly how many children fall into this category: Progress Reports cite 262 children, with the District admitting to at least 51 children in this category. The District explains its failure in this area by hypothesizing -- without specific information -- that the children's needs may be too severe or that "the child may not want it ..." The severity of the District's non-compliance in such areas has prompted the unusual request for a court-appointed temporary receiver. A key concern, the Children's Rights Project said, is the District's inability to hire and maintain an adequate workforce. The lack of such a workforce is described as "a problem that feeds on itself ... It is a problem that the defendants have demonstrated they are incapable of addressing." The temporary receiver would have the responsibility and authority to make sure steps are taken to immediately hire 145 workers to reduce caseloads. The Children's Rights Project lawsuit, begun in 1979, has forced many improvements in D.C.'s foster care system, which was found to violate the Constitutional rights of children in its care in 1991. "The District has lowered caseloads from extraordinarily high levels, has made positive changes in its adoption program and its child welfare system," Lowry said. "But the improvements are inadequate and very far behind schedule. These children can wait no longer." The Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union is the oldest and largest national program using litigation, education and advocacy to reform child welfare systems and to improve services for America's most vulnerable children and families. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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