March 24, 2004
JUAN F. CONSENT DECREE
By: Saul Spigel, Chief Analyst
You asked for a brief summary of recent changes in the Juan F. consent decree.
The Juan F. consent decree resulted from a federal class action suit filed against the Department of Children and Youth Services (DCYS, now the Department of Children and Families (DCF)). The suit broadly challenged the department's management, policies, practices, operations, funding, and protocols concerning abused and neglected children in its custody and those who might come into its custody.
In 1991, the state reached an agreement with the plaintiff (Juan F.) and entered into a consent decree ordered by the U.S District Court. That decree established staffing ratios DCYS had to follow and created a comprehensive set of policy manuals covering all areas of DCYS responsibility. It also authorized the court to appoint a monitor to review DCYS' operations and help ensure its compliance with the decree.
In February 2002, the court approved a plan that would allow DCF to exit from the consent decree. The plan set performance and outcome measures DCF had to achieve. In 2003, the plaintiffs returned to court arguing that DCF had failed to comply with the terms of the exit plan.
RECENT CONSENT DECREE CHANGES
On October 7, 2003, the state admitted its failure to comply and agreed to a stipulation to the 1991 consent decree. The stipulation established a “transition task force” to assume all decision-making authority that substantially affects the safety and welfare of the Juan F. class (abused and neglected children or those at risk of abuse or neglect who are or become committed to DCF or come under its care or custody). The task force is composed of DCF Commissioner Darlene Dunbar; the Office of Policy and Management secretary; and the current court monitor, D. Ray Sirry. The stipulation gives the task force all the DCF commissioner's legal authority. It makes the commissioner responsible for implementing the task force's decisions.
The stipulation sets up a process by which the task force makes decisions, for the governor to make a decision when the task force cannot agree, and for the monitor to appeal the governor's decision to the District Court.
The stipulation also required the monitor, in consultation with the commissioner and secretary, to develop a definitive exit plan that includes specific outcomes and measures. The monitor submitted his plan on December 23, 2003. In January, the state challenged the plan in District Court on the grounds that it bound the state to fund millions of dollars for improvements to DCF. On February 23, Justice Alan Nevas rejected the state's challenge.
The exit plan covers 22 areas of operation, including time frames for beginning and completing a child abuse investigation, case worker visits with children and families, out-of-home placement, reunification and transfer of guardianship, foster parent training, and discharge from DCF commitment. If DCF meets all the prescribed outcome measures, the exit plan will terminate in November 2006.