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March 2000
288 pages  

6 x 9
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Pitiful Plaintiffs
Child Welfare Litigation and the Federal Courts
Mezey, Susan Gluck
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.

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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 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.
“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

“For all the general talk, there are remarkably few detailed, empirical studies of the how, what, where, when, and why of judicial policy making. Focusing on class action law suits in “lower” federal courts rather than big Supreme Court cases or routine trials, this study will be vital for all future analyses of courts and public policy.”—Martin Shapiro, University of California, Berkeley

“[Susan Mezey’s] careful analysis of child welfare policy and the role of the federal courts will soon become a critical source in the debate over class action litigation. It not only provides a thorough analysis of how ‘big’ cases move with glacial pace through the court system, but how they affect the system as they proceed. It is a carefully researched, excellently written, and sophisticated legal and political analysis of the emotional and often heart-wrenching problems involving child welfare.”—Karen O’Connor, American University, Washington, D. C.

Pittiful Plaintiffs is a book that scholars interested in judicial policy making or in public policy analysis more generally will want on their shelves.”-- Law and Politics Book Review

“Susan Gluck Mezey has provided a thoroughly researched, useful addition to the literature on interest in group litigation and judicial decision making.”---Caren G. Dubroff,Political Science Quarterly, Winter 2000-1

“Well-researched, highly readable book.”---D.R. Imig, Choice, March 2001

“The most significant contribution of this book is that it highlights the extraordinary difficulty of reforming a child welfare system that can only improve if numerous public officials respond favorably to intrest group pressure. An attractive feature of the book is that it combines legal, political, and policy analysis. The legal analysis is excellent and lucid enough for advanced undergraduates to follow. The political analysis is wide -ranging and instructive, with good insights into each brach of government and occasional references to federal -state relations. offers considerable insights into an important lawsuit and its aftermath. (does) advance our understanding of the underlying issues.”Willan T. Gormley, Jr. Georgetown University American Politics, March 2001

“Adresses some perennial issues in the study of litigation as a means of reforming public institutions. One of these is the clash between federal courts and state governments, where the ubiquitous dance of federalism plays out against the backdrop of judicial, legislative, and bureaucratic cultures. Another is the suitability of judges for the complex task of changing an agency's policies and practices. . . . These aspects of reform litigation, and some others, are explored in Mezey's thorough case study of child welfare reform in Illinois that focuses on the story of one case—B.H. v. Johnson. . . . Mezey does a good job of putting the events of the lawsuit into context. In casting her gaze beyond the Illinois borders, she shows how lawsuits across the nation impacted on B.H. . . . These strengths highlight the virtues of the case study approach, which allows careful attention to context and detail, while sacrificing generalizability.”—Elizabeth Ellen Gordon, The Justice System Journal

“Mezey presents a single, yet careful, case study of an institutional reform suit (B.H. v. Johnson) against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—the state child welfare agency. . . . This book's primary contribution is an interesting, nuanced study of a federal court strategy for comprehensive child welfare reform in Illinois. It is of great interest to child welfare practitioners and public interest lawyers.”—Social Service Review

“This careful analysis is more than just a point of academic study or discussion on child welfare reform; it provides an analytical and detailed study of the process one might take in reforming child welfare in local and state governments across the nation.”--Spencer H. Gunnerson, Journal of Law & Family Studies, 2002

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Political Science/Policy, Theory, Law

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.


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