DFCS, Advocates Develop Plan to Get Child Welfare Reform on Track

Mississippi Begins Recruiting for ‘Director for Sustainable Transformation’

(New York, NY)—In light of an independent monitor’s findings of non-compliance with court-ordered reform, representatives from Mississippi’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), national advocacy group Children’s Rights and Jackson law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP have agreed to a plan designed to address capacity issues within DFCS and improve its performance.

A lynchpin of the plan is to hire a “Director for Sustainable Transformation,” a new position that will oversee a team dedicated to immediately improving DFCS’ ability to protect and support children in foster care. The position must be filled by November 1, 2014 for the state to avoid further legal action.

“It is no secret that change is long overdue for Mississippi’s child welfare system,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director for Children’s Rights. “We are glad that the state has recognized the significant lack of capacity that has led to its failure to implement required reforms. We are hopeful that creating a new team, which includes a national search for its director and has an advisory panel of experts, will jump start this effort. Mississippi’s children must receive the protections they were promised, and the state must be held accountable for the treatment of its most vulnerable citizens.”

Children’s Rights and co-counsel filed suit against the state in 2004. The class action, known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour, cited dangerously high caseloads, untrained caseworkers, a shortage of foster homes, and a widespread failure to provide basic health care services. A modified settlement agreement (MSA), approved in 2012, contained an action plan to address the state’s consistent failure to meet court-ordered performance standards, but thus far DFCS has met few of those goals, according to an independent federal monitor.

The Director for Sustainable Transformation, which will be chosen jointly by the state and plaintiffs, will report to both the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) and DFCS. The person in this role will develop a “Transformation Team” and oversee implementation of necessary reforms to improve the state’s compliance with the MSA—including accountability at the regional level, where performance has been uneven.

To support the efforts of the Director for Sustainable Transformation and be in compliance with the MSA, the state is to produce valid and accurate caseworker caseload reports—something they have failed to provide for six years–by October 15, 2014.