July 15, 2019

FaegreBD Pro Bono Team Achieves Settlement for Abused Children in Hennepin County Foster Care

A settlement has been reached in a pro bono class action case filed by Faegre Baker Daniels (FaegreBD) on behalf of abused and neglected children served by the Hennepin County child welfare and child protection system.

A Motion for Preliminary Approval of the Stipulation and Settlement was filed last Friday by FaegreBD in United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The case, T.F. et al v. Hennepin County et al, was filed in May 2017 and sought systemic reform on behalf of a class of children in foster care in Hennepin County and a class of children who are the subjects of maltreatment reports made to Hennepin County.

The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit are 14 children who were placed in foster care by Hennepin County.

The plaintiffs alleged serious and long-standing failures to protect children by the Hennepin County Child and Family Services Program. Allegations included the county’s failure to respond appropriately or timely to maltreatment reports, in addition to the county’s failure to address high rates of maltreatment recurrence and re-entry of children into foster care.

Furthermore, the civil complaint also cited: the county’s misuse of shelter care resources and its failure to provide safe and appropriate foster homes; failure to provide necessary services to children and their families; failure to set and maintain appropriate caseloads for social workers; and failure to make safe, timely and appropriate permanent arrangements for children who cannot be returned to their parents.

The Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services was an additional defendant in the litigation, because the state supervises the administration of social services programs for all Minnesota counties.

“This settlement reflects a commitment by Hennepin County to work hard to achieve better outcomes for children in foster care,” said Jim Volling, FaegreBD partner and lead plaintiffs’ counsel. “We believe that the important work to be done over the next four years of the settlement period will help protect the most vulnerable children in our community and we look forward to working with Hennepin County on this process.”

The settlement agreement requires Hennepin County to undertake a series of specific reforms over a four-year period. A Settlement Subcommittee, comprised of two members selected by the plaintiffs, two members selected by Hennepin County, and an independent neutral (former Hennepin County Judge John Stanoch) serving as the chairperson, will monitor the county’s progress in meeting the requirements of the agreement and issue biannual reports on its findings.

In addition, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners will hold an annual public meeting dedicated to promoting transparency and public disclosure about the Child and Family Services Program and will also prepare an annual report to address the actions and priority issues identified by the Settlement Subcommittee.

In addition to Volling, the FaegreBD legal team included: Dianne Heins, Nathaniel Zylstra, Nicholas Nelson, Jeffrey Justman, Larry LaTarte, Laura Reilly, Shelley Meyer and Molly Gulbrandson. Other counsel for plaintiffs included: A Better Childhood, Inc. (Marcia Lowry and Sarah Jaffe) and Eric Hecker of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

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