Pitiful Plaintiffs

Child Welfare Litigation and the Federal Courts

Susan Mezey has written a fine study. She takes a careful look at the actions and effects of the federal courts in an important field of policy. In doing so, she provides insight into the practical impact of litigation that is aimed at reforming public programs.
Lawrence Baum, Ohio State University

Focusing on a class action lawsuit against the Illinois child welfare system (B. H. v. Johnson), Pitiful Plaintiffs examines the role of the federal courts in the child welfare policymaking process and the extent to which litigation can achieve the goal of reforming child welfare systems.
Beginning in the 1970s, children’s advocates asked the federal courts to intervene in the child welfare policymaking process. Their weapons were, for the most part, class action suits that sought widespread reform of child welfare systems. This book is about the tens of thousands of abused and neglected children in the United States who enlisted the help of the federal courts to compel state and local governments to fulfill their obligations to them. Based on a variety of sources, the core of the research consists of in-depth, open-ended interviews with individuals involved in the Illinois child welfare system, particularly those engaged in the litigation process, including attorneys, public officials, members of children’s advocacy groups, and federal court judges. The interviews were supplemented with information from legal documents, government reports and publications, national and local news reports, and scholarly writings. Despite the proliferation of child welfare lawsuits and the increasingly important role of the federal judiciary in child welfare policymaking, structural reform litigation against child welfare systems has received scant scholarly attention from a political science or public policy perspective. Mezey’s comprehensive study will be of interest to political scientists and public policy analysts, as well as anyone involved in social justice and child welfare.

288 Pages, 6 x 9 in.

March, 2000

isbn : 9780822957171

about the author

Susan Gluck Mezey

Susan Gluck Mezey, Ph.D., J.D., is a professor of political science at Loyola University, Chicago. She is former director of Loyola’s Women’s Studies Program and chair of the 1999 Forum on the Child. She is the author of Pitiful Plaintiffs: Child Welfare Litigation and the Federal Courts; No Longer Disabled: The Federal Courts and the Politics of Social Security Disability; In Pursuit of Equality: Women, Public Policy, and the Federal Courts; and Children in Court: Public Policymaking and Federal Court Decisions. Her articles have appeared in Law & Policy, Journal of Politics, American Politics Quarterly, Rutgers Law Review, Women and Politics, Judicature, Policy Studies Review, Family Law Quarterly, and Policy Studies Journal.

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Susan Gluck Mezey