Class Actions

Mississippi

MS - Olivia Y. v. Barbour

At the time the complaint was filed, there were eight named plaintiffs, including Olivia Y. and John A.

Olivia Y. was removed from her home at age 3. She had been so severely neglected that she weighed only 22 pounds. During her first three months in custody, Olivia was moved between five placements, including one home where a convicted rapist was residing. When she was placed in a shelter 100 miles away, workers finally noted her severe malnourishment, short stature, and developmental delays.  Nonetheless, DFCS failed to provide her with necessary medical assessments and health care. Following the lawsuit, Olivia was adopted.

John A. suffered from mental illness and entered foster care at 9.  He was moved between placements more than 35 times.  Instead of addressing John’s mental health needs, DFCS institutionalized him 13 times.  Even though John was freed for adoption, DFCS failed to provide him with a permanent home.  John aged out of foster care.

As of August 15, 2014, Children’s Rights’ founder and director emeritus, Marcia Lowry, and local co-counsel, have sole responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the reform efforts in Mississippi.

Senior U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division
STATUS: Monitoring
FILED: March 30, 2004
SETTLEMENT REACHED: January 2008; modified July 6, 2012

Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Bradley, Arant, Rose & White, Stephen Leech and Loeb & Loeb, brought this case against the Governor of Mississippi, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Director of the Mississippi Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) on behalf of all Mississippi children in the legal custody of DFCS and all children known to the Division as a result of a report of abuse or neglect. The Amended Complaint  alleges violations of the state’s statutory obligations to protect abused and neglected children and of the children’s constitutional due process rights.

The parties settled the case in 2008. In October 2010, based on violations of the settlement agreement, Children’s Rights filed a motion requesting that the court find the state in contempt and appoint a general receiver with full authority to administer Mississippi’s child welfare system. On May 17, 2011, the court issued an order denying the motion and directing the parties to work toward a modified agreement. The court found that plaintiffs made a prima facie showing of contempt, and directed the parties to work together, in consultation with a court-appointed monitor, to craft appropriate modifications to their existing agreements. The parties negotiated a Modified Settlement Agreement and Reform Plan in 2012.

The lawsuit succeeded in bringing about substantial reforms in Mississippi:

  • DFCS made a sustained commitment to training its staff and improving the quality of its workforce. As of 2013, all new caseworkers and supervisors completed their pre-service training before they assumed their respective responsibilities for carrying cases and supervising.
  • The state successfully improved its ability to place siblings together. As of 2013, 85 percent of siblings who entered care at around the same time were placed together.
  • As of 2013, 94 percent of children removed from their homes were placed within 50 miles of their homes.
  • In the past, many children experienced traumatizing placement instability in foster care. As of 2013, 77 percent of children in care for less than 12 months experience two or fewer placements.

However, the progress report released by the court monitor in May 2014, identified a number of outstanding areas that required the state’s attention:

  • Mississippi still struggled to collect and produce accurate data to document the progress of the state’s child welfare system.
  • There was significant regional variability in terms of performance. While some regions showed improvements, many continued to lag behind with regard to outcomes for children.
  • Statewide, only 36 percent of maltreatment investigations were initiated within 24 hours and completed with supervisory approval in 30 days.

In July 2014, the parties agreed to a new plan to move Mississippi towards meeting its court-mandated reform goals. Pursuant to a joint order approved by the court, DFCS agreed to create the position of director for sustainable transformation and an accompanying transformation team to address capacity deficits and improve performance toward meeting the requirements of the Modified Settlement Agreement.