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Mississippi Foster Children Continue to Be Harmed, Advocates Ask Court to Act

JACKSON, MISS. – Citing the well-documented and consistent failure of Mississippi’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) to improve its deeply dysfunctional foster care system as required by the settlement of a federal class action lawsuit, the national advocacy group Children’s Rights today filed a motion for contempt calling for the federal court to intervene in the state agency’s management.

While DFCS has made some positive changes in the way the agency is structured, (PDF) establishes that the magnitude of Mississippi’s noncompliance with the settlement agreement has left thousands of children — many of whom have been in foster care since the lawsuit was first filed in 2004 — in as much danger and at as much risk of harm today as they were six years ago.

Because of these ongoing problems and the failure of DFCS’s leadership to act after nearly three years, Children’s Rights advocates argue that appointing a receiver to take over DFCS’s management of the child welfare system is the only effective way to protect children in foster care from further harm.

“DFCS has been given every opportunity to meet its obligation to improve the treatment of thousands of abused and neglected children in foster care, but after almost three years, children are sadly no better off,” said Shirim Nothenberg, staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “It has become clear that DCFS’s current leadership is simply not capable of getting these reforms off the ground, so we are asking the court to appoint someone who can and will implement the required improvements.”

Today’s motion cites recent reports, issued by the independent monitor appointed by the court to track the reform effort, showing several ongoing failures at DFCS:

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 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 Children’s Rights; Wayne Drinkwater, Bradley Arant Boult CummingsLLP, Jackson, Miss.; John Lang, Attorney at Law, New York, NY; and Christian Carbone and John Piskora, Loeb & Loeb LLP, New York, NY.

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 a at www.childrensrights.org/mississippi.