Child Welfare Reform Through Class Action Litigation

Holding child welfare systems accountable


What We Work For

As court-appointed monitors, we hold systems accountable and drive lasting policy and practice change.

Too often, structural and institutional limitations prevent child welfare systems from fully supporting the children and families they are bound to serve. Long-standing policy flaws and structural barriers impede these systems from protecting children and effectively promoting the well-being and healthy development of stable families. The poor outcomes of children, youth, and families involved with these systems demonstrate the need for creative strategies that have the real possibility of sustained change over time.

How We Do It

We are appointed by a federal court to independently assess child welfare systems’ performance in jurisdictions under federal or state court-ordered agreements.

We take an innovative approach to monitoring, giving equal attention to data and the quality of practice and outcomes of work with children, youth, and families.

We also promote and support non-adversarial problem solving among the parties so that court-ordered agreements can promote lasting systemic change.

We rely on data collection methods that utilize administrative data, structured qualitative service review (QSR) instruments and protocols, focus groups with caseworkers, families, and other stakeholders, as well as meetings with leadership in order to get the clearest picture of how the system is working.

Through this work, we hope to one day see demonstrated and measurable systemic improvements and better outcomes for children, youth, and families.

Child Welfare Reform through Class Action Litigation

Court ordered reform in child welfare systems can provide an opportunity for systems to identify areas in need of change, develop strategies to facilitate reform, and work toward measurable targets and improved outcomes for children, youth, and families. For more than 30 years, we have functioned as a federally appointed monitor in class action lawsuits to independently assess and report on how systems are working to transform the way they serve children, youth, and families.

To achieve this work—and partner with systems as they transform their procedures and policies—we:

Take a non-adversarial approach, working directly with plaintiffs, policymakers, families, and community partners to develop and work toward common goals.

Develop strategic long-term plans with regular milestones and goals for progress. System reform is not a short-term process; all parties must recognize that thoughtful sequencing and prioritizing are necessary for lasting change.

Regularly collect, analyze, and use quantitative data to inform practice deficiencies and improvements and make decisions.

Develop, collect, and make use of qualitative data collected through structured qualitative service review (QSR) instruments to ensure a robust and clear picture of the systems we are monitoring.

Work with systems to develop and codify best practices and protocols that will function as a road map for current and future progress.

Assist states and local jurisdictions in planning development and connecting to external technical assistance.

When a state successfully exits a lawsuit, it will have reached the standards established for safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for the families served by the system. It is our goal to work as a guide and partner through this process, helping systems and families achieve the best possible outcome now and in the future.

Child Welfare Reform Through Class Action Litigation Jurisdictions

The child welfare systems in which CSSP is currently involved in class-action litigation monitoring work are:

  • New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families
  • South Carolina’s Department of Social Services
  • Washington, DC’s Child and Family Services Agency
  • Humboldt County, CA’s Children and Family Services
  • State of Maryland Department of Human Services and Baltimore County Department of Social Services
  • Tennessee Department of Children’s Services ( successfully exited in 2017)

Our Experts

Alexandra Citrin

Alexandra Citrin

Senior Policy Analyst
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Elissa Gelber

Elissa Gelber

Senior Associate
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Ali Jawetz

Ali Jawetz

Policy Analyst
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Judy Meltzer

Judith Meltzer

Executive Vice President
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Rachel Paletta

Rachel Paletta

Senior Associate
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Martha Raimon

Martha Raimon

Senior Associate
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