March 26, 2020

New Mexico Reaches Innovative Settlement Agreement with Foster Youth Advocates

Parties to a lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s foster care system announced on March 26, 2020 a groundbreaking settlement agreement that will provide a model for reforming other state child welfare systems across the country.

Munger, Tolles & Olson, along with lawyers from Public Counsel and Stanford’s Youth & Education Law Project (YELP), served as lead counsel for 14 foster children and two non-profit organizations that brought the case against the State of New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) and Human Services Department (HSD). The settlement agreement has garnered national media attention including coverage in The New York Times and by the Associated Press

Drawing on scientific discoveries on the effects of trauma on children’s behavior and development, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, entitled Kevin S. v. Blalock, alleged that trauma-impacted children and youth in New Mexico foster care were not being placed in appropriate homes or facilities, were not receiving needed behavioral health services and were experiencing additional traumas because of a flawed foster care system.

The settlement requires New Mexico to fundamentally re-orient its foster care system so that it addresses and mitigates trauma, provides children with appropriate placements and gives them access to behavioral health care services. It also recognizes and addresses the specific needs and interests of Native American children in foster care. The settlement’s focus on trauma-responsiveness and on Native American children sets it apart from past efforts to reform state child welfare systems.

Munger, Tolles & Olson litigation partner Grant Davis-Denny puts the importance of trauma responsiveness into perspective:

“Almost half a million U.S. children are in foster care, and nearly all enter state custody having experienced multiple traumatic events, ranging from neglect to outright abuse. That itself is a national tragedy. But even worse, child welfare systems across the country not only fail to treat childhood trauma, but actually re-traumatize our nation’s most challenged kids.” 

“New Mexico is blazing a new path forward by re-orienting its foster care system to take account of and prevent childhood trauma, and other states should follow suit,” Mr. Davis-Denny adds.

Munger, Tolles & Olson attorney Grant Davis-Denny led the firm’s efforts in representing the plaintiffs alongside Public Counsel, Stanford’s YELP and non-profit and law firm attorneys based in New Mexico.