(Made possible by the generous support of the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, the Sirus Fund, our individual donors and previous funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.)
This project initiates, monitors, and coordinates advocacy and educational strategies necessary to effectuate positive systemic reform on behalf of children in foster care in the five boroughs of New York City. These reform efforts include advocacy in family court proceedings; legislative analysis and reform; individual appeals; impact litigation in both the State and Federal Courts; and community, institutional, and judicial education.
These reform efforts are tied to LFC’s direct services, reflecting the needs, wishes and rights of individual children in foster care. The Public Policy & Special Litigation Project is also integrated into LFC’s other special projects, providing public policy and impact litigation expertise for LFC’s efforts on behalf of children in foster care who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; whose immigration status is unresolved; who have been sexually abused or have been exposed to domestic violence.
LFC’s impact litigation and public policy successes include:
Marisol v. Giuliani: The landmark civil rights, class action lawsuit brought by Lawyers For Children and Children’s Rights, Inc., on behalf of children in the custody of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). The Marisol case accomplished something unprecedented - the creation of an independent panel of nationally recognized experts in the field of child welfare, led and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that monitored, reviewed and evaluated the performance of New York City’s child welfare system for two years. This innovative settlement plan set a new national standard in child welfare reform litigation and gave children in foster care in New York City the best opportunity they have ever had for genuine and comprehensive reform of the entire child welfare bureaucracy. The Special Child Welfare Advisory Panel Reports can be found at: www.aecf.org/child.
Richard A. v. Scoppetta: Lawyers For Children and the Legal Aid Society jointly filed this class action lawsuit, challenging provisions of the Adoption and Safe Families Act that required the mandatory removal of children from foster homes if the foster or adoptive parents had ever been convicted of certain crimes. The law required removal regardless of how exemplary a foster parent's track record as a caregiver, how long ago the crime was committed, or how bonded the child might be to them. Our efforts were critical for our young clients. For example:
Troy's* mother died when he was five, leaving him with brutally abusive relatives. After LFC was assigned, Troy was placed in the foster home of Mr. and Mrs. Adams and their son, Jevin. Troy thrived and prayed to be adopted. Shortly before the adoption, ASFA was enacted, requiring Troy to be immediately removed due to Mr. Adams' 28-year-old attempted robbery conviction. Although every professional involved believed that Troy would be perfectly safe with the Adams and devastated if taken away, under the law his removal was mandatory. Knowing that Troy was only one of hundreds of children who might be irreparably harmed, LFC filed a class action lawsuit challenging the statute's constitutionality, and began educating the legislature on the need for change.
In addition to challenging this section of the statute in the Courts, LFC joined with an unprecedented coalition of advocacy groups and legal service providers to educate members of the state legislature and counsel for the Governor about the merits of amending the statute. In a true "win" for New York's children, the court ruled in our favor, the law was amended, and Troy will remain with the only real family he has every known.
Nicholson v. Williams: Most recently, LFC successfully represented the plaintiff -children, as co-counsel with the Legal Aid Society, in this class action lawsuit in Federal District Court involving children exposed to domestic violence. In this case, we obtained a settlement that balances a child’s need for safety with the need for family integrity, when determining whether removal is necessary to protect the child. ACS must now engage in a case by case evaluation to determine whether removal is required, rather than automatically removing children from a parent solely because that parent is the victim of domestic violence. In addition, this case resulted in a ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals on several certified questions referred to the State by the Federal Court of Appeals, resulting in a landmark New York Court of Appeals decision that is certain to inform how and when ACS intervenes in the lives of children and families in New York State for decades to come.
White Paper: Lawyers For Children, Children’s Rights, Inc., and the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society released “Time Running Out: Teens in Foster Care,” the first ever comprehensive qualitative study of teens living in group settings in New York City foster care. “Time Running Out” approaches systemic child welfare reform by issuing a public challenge to ACS to address some of the most intractable and problematic concerns affecting the treatment of children in foster care. It gives the public a unique look at the experience of adolescents in foster care in New York City, and issues a call to action to the Administration for Children’s Services. The clear message of the report is that dramatic and expeditious change is required in order to provide a positive and meaningful experience for young adults in foster care. This change requires that ACS move away from a punitive, control-based group model of foster care for adolescents, towards a youth oriented, service rich, family-centered model.
Legislative Review, Analysis, & Education: We continue to review, evaluate, and propose legislation regarding child welfare issues. In consultation with the New York State Office of Court Administration, the Legal Aid Society, and the Administration for Children’s Services, Lawyers For Children drafted proposed legislation to extend the Family Court’s authority to monitor children voluntarily placed into foster care, between the ages of 18 and 21. In a significant victory on behalf of adolescents in foster care, this proposed legislation was recently enacted as part of sweeping new legislation reforming New York State’s child welfare permanency statutes. Prior to this landmark legislative reform, children who were placed into foster care as a result of allegations of abuse and neglect, and all children in foster care who were freed for adoption, were monitored by the court until the age of 21. However, in a legal anomaly, the court lost jurisdiction at the age of 18 over only those children voluntarily placed into foster care by their parents or caretakers. Our legislative amendment eliminates this significant statutory flaw.
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* In order to protect the privacy of our clients, all children’s names referenced on this web site are fictitious.