A “Child Welfare Debacle” in Mississippi

haley_barbourSince 2004, Children’s Rights has been engaged in a major campaign to reform Mississippi’s badly dysfunctional and highly dangerous child welfare system on behalf of thousands of abused and neglected children statewide.

But in spite of the comprehensive plan we negotiated with the administration of Governor Haley Barbour four years ago–approved and enforceable by a federal judge — to implement across-the-board improvements, inaction on the part of the governor and his staff have left state foster care in a persistent condition of terrible disarray.

Now, as Gov. Barbour gears up for a presidential run, the national media are taking notice.

Here’s Andy Kroll in Mother Jones today:

The reform plan Barbour agreed to in 2007 amounts to a wholesale rebuilding of Mississippi’s child-welfare system. Limits were set on caseloads, and social workers now had to meet strict qualification guidelines to work for DFCS. Previously the state didn’t train DFCS employees in child welfare; now it had to operate a training unit to make sure employees knew what they were doing. The terms of the settlement also called for improved foster care conditions, a more streamlined path to adoption or reunification with biological parents, and beefing up child safety measures within the system to curb abuse and neglect. Nearly every corner of the Mississippi’s system was set for an overhaul.

Except, four years later, that overhaul hasn’t happened. According to the independent monitor assigned by the court to the Olivia Y. case, DFCS, under Barbour’s watch, has struggled to implement the required reforms. A 2010 report by the monitor, Grace Lopes, noted that DFCS had missed deadlines laid out in the settlement, and was nowhere near on track to meet the requirements agreed to by the state. While child welfare funding had increased and a new management team was in place, the state was still failing badly. In some instances, Lopes wrote, there was “no evidence” that Barbour and state officials had even tried to comply with the settlement.

And Alex Pareene in Salon:

It’s a bumper-sticker cliche, I know, but rarely is it illustrated so starkly: Mississippi is “the safest state in America” for a child until the second it is born. At that point, you’re on your own, sister!

We’ve kept up the pressure to get the Mississippi reforms back on track. In fact, we’ll be back in court on May 13 to make our case to the federal judge that Gov. Barbour should be held in contempt for his failure to live up to the promises he’s made to his state’s abused and neglected children.

“It’s the governor’s agency, and nothing is happening,” says Shirim Nothenberg, staff attorney for Children’s Rights, in the Mother Jones piece. “Barbour needs to be paying attention. This is his state, and these are his kids.”