New Jersey Child Welfare System Ends Federal Court Oversight

Newark, NJ and Washington, DC (October 30, 2023)—Today’s release of a final report by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), the court-appointed Monitor in the federal class action lawsuit Charlie and Nadine H. v. Murphy, marks the successful conclusion of almost two decades of work to improve New Jersey’s child welfare system. Over this period, New Jersey has worked to bring its child welfare policies and programs into compliance, with the goal of creating a system that keeps children safe, healthy, and connected. The final report can be found here.

CSSP was appointed in 2006 by the Honorable Stanley R. Chesler of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey as Federal Monitor of Charlie and Nadine H., aimed at improving outcomes for children, youth, and families served through New Jersey’s child welfare system. As Monitor, CSSP was charged with independently assessing the State’s compliance with the goals, principles, and outcomes of the Court’s Orders in the lawsuit. All prior CSSP Monitoring Reports can be found here.

To end federal court oversight, Parties to the lawsuit—the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), Governor Phil Murphy, and Plaintiff’s lawyers, A Better Childhood—presented the Court with an Exit Plan and Agreement (“Exit Plan”), identifying actions that would allow successful exit from the lawsuit and creating legal requirements and structures to sustain the outcomes of the successful reform work. The Exit Plan required the State to devise and maintain a comprehensive qualitative review system, to codify elements of the lawsuit’s requirements (for example, caseloads, staff training, data collection and reporting) into state law, and to establish the Staffing and Oversight Review Subcommittee (SORS) of the New Jersey Task Force on Abuse and Neglect (NJTFCAN)—as the entity responsible for reviewing and publicly reporting on DCF performance going forward. On December 20, 2022, the New Jersey legislature passed the SORS legislation, which includes, among other things, caseload standards and the obligation to keep children within their own communities, maintain contact with their siblings and relatives, and have their educational needs met.

The addendum report released today, in accordance with the six-month Transition Period reflected in Judge Stanely Chesler’s dismissal order of April 25, 2023, assesses DCF’s progress toward meeting its obligations from April 25 to October 25, 2023. It describes the new Collaborative Quality Improvement (CoQI) process, which uses data to identify what is working well and what needs improvement; details SORS’ new role of reviewing DCF performance; and highlights recent DCF accomplishments in its ongoing effort to support families and reduce the number of children who enter state custody.

This is a landmark day for New Jersey. During its time under federal court oversight with independent monitoring by CSSP and collaboration between the State and the court monitor, DCF dramatically changed almost every aspect of its system, including:

  • Taking an overworked, untrained workforce to one that provides staff with training, professional development, and support with manageable enough caseloads to allow them to adequately serve children and families.
  • The number of children in foster care declined dramatically (from 10,000 to 3,000 children) due to efforts to keep children safe in their homes and communities and find permanent homes for children who needed them.
  • Children who do need placement are increasingly connected with kin, most of whom are licensed and financially supported.
  • DCF has developed supports, placements, and services to meet children’s needs including access to a wide range of health and behavioral health services to promote healing and successful development.
  • DCF developed capacity to collect, report on and use data to review their performance and assess outcomes; they have implemented robust quality improvement processes.
  • New Jersey has developed one of the only statewide Universal Home Visiting programs; and built and sustained 57 Family Success Centers (FSCs), “one-stop shops” that provide wrap-around resources and supports for families to prevent the need for child welfare intervention.
  • Through the development of Child Health Units with nurses in every Local Office and enhanced funding for its Children’s System of Care, New Jersey has become a model of successful integration of systems that support children and youth’s well-being.
  • New Jersey has also become a national model in the creative use of Mobile Response Stabilization Services (MRSS), and other interventions to assist families and kin caregivers in need of support.
  • Due to a focus on prevention of maltreatment, New Jersey now uses family separation as a safety intervention significantly less often than the national average.

Judith Meltzer, the Federal Court Monitor since 2006, stated: “Today is a day to celebrate the accomplishments made by the State of New Jersey. DCF has not only achieved and largely maintained performance that meets the goals and requirements of Charlie v. Nadine H., lawsuit, but, importantly, it continues its deep commitment to being a self-correcting and nimble organization, no longer requiring federal court oversight. With the ending of the federal lawsuit, State leaders in the executive and legislative branches and New Jersey’s community partners and child and family advocates will be key to long term sustainability.”

Meltzer further stated, “New Jersey’s success in reforming its child welfare system could not have been accomplished without the critical role played by Judge Stanley Chesler, Governor Murphy and his predecessors, Plaintiffs, the State legislature, private providers, key advocates, and, most importantly, the many DCF leaders and staff at all levels who helped support and implement changes.”

“The release of the final CSSP report in the Charlie and Nadine H. case marks a new and exciting day forward for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families,” said NJ DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer.  “We’re grateful to everyone who has been a part of our reform journey, but especially the staff of the Department who have embraced and embodied reform over the last two decades to elevate the practice of child welfare in New Jersey and improve outcomes for the children and families we support as a system.

“With today’s final CSSP report, we’re validating the hard work of many individuals over the past 20 years to correct systemic deficiencies, secure needed resources and structural partnerships, to develop our capacity to learn and grow from data, and to become a national leader in the child welfare arena. We’re energized for what comes next, as we continue to follow a transformative agenda to reshape what it means to serve children and families in New Jersey, honoring what we learned along the reform path, but also owning our transformative potential and destiny.”

About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children, youth, and families thrive. We translate ideas into action, promote public policies grounded in equity, and support strong and inclusive communities. We advocate with and for all children, youth, and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices. Learn more at