Mississippi (Olivia Y. v. Barbour)
Children’s Rights filed its class action against the state of Mississippi in 2004, on behalf of the more than 3,500 children in foster care there. The federal complaint asserts that the state had long been aware of pervasive failures within its child welfare agency, the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), which pose a risk to children in state custody. Among the problems cited in the complaint:
- After an allegation of abuse or neglect is confirmed, DFCS frequently failed to open a case or provide services, instead leaving children in harmful environments or placing them with relatives without conducting proper safety screenings;
- DFCS routinely placed children as young as toddlers in large group facilities, often more than 50 miles away from their homes. Many institutions were unlicensed and therefore did not have to comply with state and federal requirements for staffing, training, corporal punishment, or planning for children’s futures;
- DFCS caseworkers were poorly trained and overburdened with dangerously high caseloads; and
- Children lived in emergency shelters and other temporary holding facilities for months at a time, due to a lack of appropriate foster placement options.
A settlement agreement with Mississippi officials mandating top-to-bottom reform of the child welfare system was reached in 2007, shortly before the scheduled trial date, and approved by the federal court on January 4, 2008. In May 2011, a federal judge found that Mississippi had not made substantial progress in meeting requirements of the settlement agreement, and ordered Children’s Rights and DFCS to negotiate modifications to the settlement agreement. The parties subsequently filed a Modified Settlement Agreement, which provides that many reforms will be “rolled out” on a region-by-region basis as the state’s new Practice Model is implemented.
Children’s Rights is currently working with state officials to help them implement the reforms mandated in the Modified Settlement Agreement.