Class-Action Litigation Increasingly Common

“Texas’s foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades,” wrote U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in her 2015 ruling related to a lawsuit against Texas’ troubled foster care system. “All the while, Texas’s … children have been shuttled throughout a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm.”

According to the Texas Tribune on February 9, after a yearlong trial for the lawsuit, filed in 2011, the judge found Texas violated foster children’s constitutional rights for exposing them to an “unreasonable risk of harm.” Details of the case included caseworkers carrying excessively large workloads, along with children placed far away from their home counties.

The advocacy group Children’s Rights brought the lawsuit against the state. According to their website, “Children’s Rights holds government systems accountable for protecting kids and keeping families together.” They describe their impact as: 20+ states transforming child-serving systems because of their advocacy, along with representing 25% of kids in the child welfare systems through their cases.

According to a report by Casey Family Programs, “the use of class-action litigation has been an increasingly common means to try to reform what the public perceives as failing government systems. Cases typically are built around an argument that a federal statutory or constitutional provision has been violated.” In their report titled, What is a summary of child welfare class-action litigation?, the organization explains that child welfare class action lawsuits take time and money; a consent decree averages about 15 years, with the “cost of legal fees, monitoring, and consulting fees estimated to reach or surpass $15 million over the lifetime of a single agreement.”

The report also summarizes United States child welfare class action lawsuits by state. According to their website, Casey Family Programs works to improve the well-being of children, families and the communities where they live.

In recent news, the Boston Globe reported that on April 24, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island joined a lawsuit requiring the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to make reforms to protect the rights of children in foster care.

Children’s Rights filed the lawsuit in 2007; they alleged the DCYF lacked sufficient funding and that caseworkers struggled with large caseloads. According to the ACLU, while the lawsuit reached a settlement in 2018 “deficiencies remain, leading to the ACLU of RI joining the case.”


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