Yesterday Judge Charles R. Snyder (Whatcom County Superior Court) ordered the state Dept. of Social and Health Services to take action within 30 days on a list of changes it agreed to in a settlement in 2004. Maureen O'Hagan, Judge demands state keep foster-care promises, Seattle Times, July 1, 2008.
The ruling came a decade into what's known as the Braam case, named for the lead plaintiff, Jessica Braam, who had been bounced through 34 foster-care placements by the time she was 12 years old. Her case came to be seen as emblematic of problems that plagued the foster-care system. At any one time, about 10,000 Washington children are in foster care.For lots more information about the case, see BraamKids. This site, created by the plaintiffs, has background on the case, information about the oversight panel, the settlement agreement, and more. The Washington Supreme Court opinion in the case is Braam ex rel. Braam v. State, 150 Wash.2d 689, 81 P.3d 851, Westlaw link PLOL link (free registration required) (Dec. 18, 2003) (Wash., 2003)
Attorneys for the children, led by Casey Trupin, a lawyer for Columbia Legal Services, and Tim Farris, a personal-injury lawyer from Bellingham, had argued that Jessica — and thousands like her — had been harmed by the state's broken system. Farris, for example, has represented numerous children who have been sexually or physically abused while in foster care.
After years of wrangling, the Braam case was settled in 2004. The state agreed to a timetable to meet certain measurable goals, such as reducing the number of children who bounce through placements. In addition, it created a panel to track the agency's progress.
The panel has repeatedly found that the state has fallen short. But because the panel has no enforcement authority, there were no real consequences. Monday marked the first time that the plaintiffs had thrown up their hands and taken the state back to court.
"If this isn't a stalemate, I don't know what is," Trupin argued in court.
Casey Trupin is a UW alum and a member of the PILA Hall of Fame.