TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey has hired a lawyer to try to get its child welfare system out from under the federal oversight it has had for 12 years.

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Children and Families Department spokesman Ernest Landante tells that the state has hired Grand Rapids, Michigan-based lawyer John Bursch to try to shift the agency to being "self-monitoring, self-correcting."

Bursch has been hired by Michigan in a similar case.

There, he has argued that too much is spent on lawyers and monitors and not enough on improving programs for kids. The judge in the case asked the two sides to negotiate a new deal.

In New Jersey, the oversight has been in place since the state settled a lawsuit with the advocacy group Children's Rights Inc., after a string of tragedies involving children who were under the state's watch, including the death of a 7-year-old in Newark.

Judith Meltzer, the Washington D.C.-based monitor overseeing the system, has reported that New Jersey has made major progress, and a judge has praised the state's improvements.

But Meltzer's reports say the state still has a ways to go to reduce caseloads for workers and to find new families more quickly for children in foster care.


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