Friday, August 12, 2016

A good decision for New York City foster children

Judge sees New York foster care suit “settlement” for the sham that it is

A federal judge wisely threw out a proposed settlement in a lawsuit brought against the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and – supposedly – against New York State.  The suit was brought by the city’s “public advocate,” Letitia James, and by Marcia Lowry, who used to run the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights” before they had a parting of the ways.

I say supposedly against the state because under the settlement the state wasn’t actually required to do much of anything – just “monitor” the city.  So of course the state rushed to “settle” – it was a great way for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stick it to his far more progressive rival, Mayor Bill DeBlasio at the expense of the city’s most vulnerable children.

Perhaps most appalling, the settlement actually would have barred anyone else from bringing a class-action suit against the state during the term of the settlement. (Presumably Lowry would have sought a similar ban against suing ACS had she reached a settlement with ACS.)  In other words, Lowry simultaneously maintained that her suit was essential and every other possible class-action suit was worthless.  The arrogance behind this position is breathtaking.

The fact that not just lawyers for parents but also the lawyers who represent children in foster care proceedings called b.s. on this one tells you everything you need to know about this suit.  It also tells you that Marcia Lowry, who long ago did some real good with some of her lawsuits, no longer understands what works, and what doesn’t, in American child welfare. 

Details about Lowry and “Children’s Rights” are in this NCCPR report.

 ACS has made real progress

 Yes the city child welfare system still has big problems.  It’s also made a lot of progress – that’s why lawyers who in the past might have backed a suit like this one now feel this particular suit and the particular remedies it sought were the wrong approach.

The part of the suit that seems to have gotten the most attention is the part pointing out that
the average length of stay in foster care is longer in New York City than the national average.  But that is partly because the city has curbed needless removal of children from their homes.  So there is less “churning” in which children are taken from everyone they know and love and then “thrown back” a few weeks later – much the worse for the experience – because everyone realizes the child never should have been taken at all. 

States and localities that engage in that pernicious practice actually can wind up looking good when you measure average length of stay.

The judge should be commended for throwing out the settlement. And Marcia Lowry should stop bringing foolish, arrogant lawsuits before whatever legacy she has is tarnished beyond repair.