Report Shows Scant Progress on Reforms to Mississippi’s Child Welfare System

(New York, NY) — A new report shows that the Mississippi Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) has yet to deliver on court-mandated reforms to improve the lives of abused and neglected children in state care. These reforms were spurred by Children’s Rights, when the national advocacy organization filed a class action suit against the state in 2004.

According to the progress report, released today by an independent federal court-appointed monitor, chronic understaffing and an inadequate data management system continue to hamper efforts to ensure the basic safety of foster children.

Statistics collected from January 1, 2009 through March 31, 2011 showed that less than 60 percent of reports of child abuse were investigated within the required 24 hours or completed within the 30 day timeframe. Requirements stipulate that if a child remains in the same home after the launch of an abuse investigation, a caseworker must visit the child twice a month for three months after the conclusion of the investigation. The report showed that fewer than 60 percent of caseworkers made these follow-up visits.

“The state’s performance shows a lack of commitment to protecting the abused and neglected children of Mississippi,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Founder and Executive Director of Children’s Rights. “It is clear that a tremendous amount of work must be done to address the ongoing failures under the current leadership at DFCS.

The monitor says DFCS still needs to make substantial improvement when it comes to other issues surrounding child placements, noting that 24 percent of children were sent to unlicensed homes at some point during the period under review and 27 percent were sent to shelters when they entered care.

“It is alarming and inexcusable that after all these years Mississippi is failing to place kids with relatives or in stable foster homes that meet approval standards,” said Lowry. “Children’s Rights will continue to keep a close eye onDFCS until the children in state care get the security they deserve.”

The class action, known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour, charged Mississippi with failing to provide legally required care and protection to the approximately 3,500 abused and neglected children in state custody, and denying them safe, stable, permanent homes. Longstanding problems cited in the lawsuit, which was filed in 2004, included dangerously high caseloads, untrained caseworkers, a shortage of foster homes, and a widespread failure to provide basic health care services.

Counsel for the class of child plaintiffs includes Wayne Drinkwater, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Jackson, Miss.

More information about Children’s Rights’ campaign to reform the child welfare system in Mississippi, including the full text of today’s motion for contempt and an archive of documents related to the class action, can be found at www.childrensrights.org/mississippi.