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12 July 20205 minute read

DLA Piper, nonprofits and attorneys achieve settlement agreement on behalf of Kansas foster children

DLA Piper, along with co-counsel that included Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Kansas City attorney and Child Welfare Law Specialist Lori Burns-Bucklew, the National Center for Youth Law and Children’s Rights, recently achieved a settlement agreement as a result of the class action case M.B. v. Howard (originally M.B. v. Colyer), brought in November 2018 against state officials on behalf of more than 7,000 children in Kansas foster care. 

The settlement agreement, which was filed in federal court on July 8 and is subject to review and approval by the federal court in Kansas City, will transform Kansas’s overburdened foster care system, bringing fundamental changes that aim to dramatically improve housing stability and mental health support for children in foster care. The class action lawsuit alleged not only that the devastating housing instability crisis imposes emotional and psychological harm on children who were already traumatized upon entry into system, but also that the extreme instability causes physical harm to children’s normal brain development.

Changes outlined in the agreement include ending the practice of housing children in unsuitable places, as well as ending short-term and night-to-night placements; providing crisis intervention services for children throughout the state; ending housing-related delays in the provision of mental health services; and ensuring that placements are not overcrowded.

The settlement also mandates five measurable outcome improvements for children; appoints Judith Meltzer and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a highly respected child welfare policy group, to independently validate the state’s performance; and requires the creation of a new independent advisory group, made up largely of stakeholders outside of state agencies, that can make public recommendations for change to which state agencies must respond.

“The impact that these changes will have for thousands of children who have been living in unstable, constantly changing environments and who have not been able to receive the support they desperately need cannot be understated,” said DLA Piper partner Caryn Schechtman. “With a new accountability structure in place, we are optimistic that this settlement will mark a transformation in the way Kansas manages its foster care system moving forward.”

Along with Schechtman (New York), the DLA Piper team involved in the matter included partners Jeff Rotenberg (New York) and David Sager (Short Hills); senior attorney Kristin Pacio (Short Hills); and associates Joshua Kane, Olivia Tourgee (both of New York), Billy Diggs (Short Hills) and Megan Kinney (San Diego).