TitleLitigation strategy and public sector reform
NameAlvarez, Ariel (author), Stark, Evan (chair), Riccucci, Norma (internal member), Farmbry, Kyle (internal member), Hull, Elizabeth (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - Newark,
SubjectPublic Adm. (SPAA),
Government accountability--New Jersey,
Child welfare--New Jersey,
Child welfare workers--Malpractice--New Jersey,
New Jersey. Division of Youth and Family Services
DescriptionA dramatic event for any state child welfare agency is when a child dies while in its care. As a tool for reform, the use of a litigation strategy has become increasingly popular. Using a litigation strategy to affect accountability can create a difficult situation for those
in public administration who must deal with being accountable to the court as well as to legislative oversight. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether litigation is an effective tool for reforming and enhancing the accountability of public sector agencies.
The research focused on the response by New Jersey’s child welfare services to the settlement agreement reached in the class action lawsuit of Charlie and Nadine H. v. McGreevey (2003) and implemented under the guidance of a five member expert panel.
A case study method using quantitative and qualitative measures was employed to assess whether the litigation improved the organizational efficiency, performance and outcomes of child welfare in New Jersey and improved the state’s accountability for services to children and families. Over the last few decades, advocacy organizations have increasingly relied on litigation as a means to reform public agencies, including child welfare. Over the last 30 years, for instance, litigation seeking court intervention has challenged all or part of the child welfare system in almost two-thirds of the states. Typically instigated by a publicized tragedy, such as the death of a child in care, or practices thought to abrogate constitutional rights or the agency’s statutory mission, litigation on behalf of the class of those affected targets a specific facet of agency performance or systemic issues. Court remedies typically include deadlines for reform, procedural and documentation guidelines, quantifiable changes in supervision, staffing, training, performance, and case
practice, and measureable outcomes. Despite its growing popularity as a means of eliciting reform, however, there is a dearth of research on whether such a strategy is effective in its objectives, let alone more effective than legislative or administrative oversight. The issue bears on a number of core normative concerns in public administration, such as how to best ensure the efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness and accountability of public agencies. In 1999, Children’s Rights, a child advocacy group, brought a class action lawsuit against New Jersey DFYS on behalf of two children, Charlie and Nadine H., calling for major
changes in its structure, performance and accountability. Proponents argue that litigation
is a last resort after legislative/administrative oversight has failed. Critics insist that court mandates stall existing reform efforts, stifle initiative and freeze administrative decision-making. Administrators may meet a “checklist” of benchmarks, but fail to address
underlying factors, for instance. This case study used data from interviews with key actors and stakeholders, progress reports and other documents that reflected the panel’s efforts and the agency’s response/compliance with the original (2003) and modified settlement agreements (2006). The case study responded to two research questions. (l) Did the litigation strategy
enhance the capacity for DFYS to meet the organizational and performance goals set by
the oversight panel? Answering this question involved assessing changes in the internal structure and performance of the agency in relationship to the panel’s mandates. (2). Did the litigation strategy lead to greater accountability of DFYS to its statutory mission of
protecting children and serving families? Answering this question involved assessing whether the court's decision led the New Jersey state government to provide the funding and support the organizational changes needed to meet the performance goals set by the oversight panel. Findings suggest that under the guidance of the panel, the child welfare agency and the
state underwent major changes that would not have occurred without the litigation. Although the original settlement agreement proved too rigid as a guide to change, the revised agreement set realistic goals and allowed the flexibility needed to meet these goals. Critical changes occurred in administrative structure, training, staffing, supervision, case loads and other aspects of organization and practice. Meanwhile, the state elevated the administration status of the agency and provided the needed funding, demonstrable improvements in accountability. The generally positive outcomes of the New Jersey experience suggests that public advocacy via a litigation strategy can be a
powerful tool in eliciting administrative reform and enhancing accountability.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Noteby Ariel Alvarez
CollectionGraduate School - Newark Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.