Erik Pitchal has an article featured in a publication by the Center for the Study of Social Policy
Monday, March 19, 2012
Posted by: Taylor Stockdell
Erik S. Pitchal, Engagement IS the Reform: The Role of Youth, Foster Parents, and Biological Parents in Child Welfare Litigation, in FOR THE WELFARE OF CHILDREN: LESSONS LEARNED FROM CLASS ACTION LITIGATION, p. 56, Judith Meltzer, Rachel Molly Joseph, and Andy Shookhof, eds. (Center for the Study of Social Policy 2012).
The defining professional norm among lawyers is service to clients. But probably for as long as there have been lawyers, there have been attorneys who are as committed to causes and to social reform as to solving the problems of individuals who knock on their door seeking assistance. Undoubtedly, the lawyers who initiate class action child welfare litigation are dedicated, zealous advocates who wish to improve the lot of one of the most marginalized, powerless, voiceless groups in society. They take the individual stories they hear about and move quickly to systemic analysis and attack, using the stories as powerful anecdotes to illustrate broader points. They move up the ladder of complexity, aggregating data, distilling common themes, and identifying systematic causes that underlie the individual tragedies that sparked the investigation and litigation.
The question explored in this paper is whether anything gets lost as plaintiffs' counsel move up this ladder away from individual stories towards the class-based approach. More specifically, it describes the extent to which those stakeholders who are typically most involved in the initial outcry for reform retain a voice once the class action gets underway and the lawyers get down to business. From there, it analyzes whether the level of involvement of youth, foster parents, and families of origin has an impact (whatever its valence) on the outcome of the litigation – as well as the prospects for abiding reform in the system. The paper concludes that the most lasting form of change is one that fundamentally reshapes the agency from the inside, changing its very culture and approach to its work. Engagement of youth, foster parents, and biological parents in the agency's daily work in a meaningful way holds significant promise for ensuring enduring reform.
The paper can be found here.