After 15 years, millions of dollars in new state funding and the implementation of sweeping changes in the state's child welfare protocols, the longest class-action lawsuit in state history is over.

At least it is according to the plaintiff in David C. v. Leavitt, who sent a letter to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on Tuesday commending him and the state for "reforming the child welfare system so effectively."

John F. O'Toole, director of the National Center for Youth Law, said Utah had "one of the most troubled foster-care systems in the country" in 1993 when the lawsuit was filed against the state and officials including then-Gov. Mike Leavitt for neglecting and endangering children whom the state had taken into custody because of abuse in their homes.

"Now, it has one of the best," O'Toole said Tuesday afternoon, reiterating the main point of the letter. "The state has persevered," he said, noting the difficulty and length of the lawsuit.

Such praise is a first from the leaders of the class-action lawsuit, who several times accused the state of stalling at every opportunity and coming close to outright defying the directives of federal judges' orders in the case. The center attorneys at one point accused the Legislature of pretending to want to work out an agreement, then trying to thwart the very steps it had written into the settlement agreement.

O'Toole said the law center is now confident that those in charge of child welfare in the state are committed to maintaining the "excellent system you have built in Utah."

State Division of Child Welfare

leaders said over the years that if the so-called "Milestone Plan" adopted and implemented by the court were fully instituted within the division, Utah would emerge one day with a welfare system that is a model for the country.

"Well, it appears that day is here, or almost here," Lisa-Marie Church, Utah Department of Human Services executive director said Tuesday, noting that she will wait until Dec. 31 to breathe "a complete sigh of relief."

Huntsman, Church and current DCFS Director Duane Betournay were particularly key to bringing "a positive end to a very long episode," O'Toole said.

"NCYL will continue to monitor Utah's child-welfare system through the various means available," O'Toole said, adding a conciliatory note: "But we stand ready to help, if that would be useful," he told the governor. "You have done an exemplary job in bringing this lawsuit to an amicable conclusion, and we commend you."


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