Scores of Mississippians Report Urgent Need for Foster Care Overhaul

Counsel for the approximately 3,500 foster children in Mississippi will present a settlement agreement for approval today at a hearing before Federal District Court Judge Tom S. Lee, in the child welfare reform lawsuit known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour. Faced with a liability trial scheduled for this month, the state of Mississippi reached a preliminary agreement in April 2007 with national watchdog group Children’s Rights and co-counsel, including local Mississippi attorneys, to overhaul its failing child welfare system. Comments on the settlement submitted to the court by concerned Mississippians detail the urgent need to reform Mississippi’s child welfare system. Originally filed in 2004, the class action lawsuit charges Mississippi with knowingly failing to protect the children in its custody.

“Child welfare professionals, relatives, and foster and adoptive parents, as well as other concerned and knowledgeable citizens from across Mississippi have come forward to express their grave concerns about the foster care system and their strong support for the settlement agreement,” said Eric Thompson, senior staff attorney at Children’s Rights. “This groundswell of local support highlights the risks being posed to kids every day and why reform of the system is needed so urgently.”

In a series of community meetings in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Gulfport, and northern Mississippi, conducted by Children’s Rights and local co-counsel, people came forward to describe the problems they had experienced with the state’s broken child welfare system, and how reform was needed to stop children from continuing to be harmed by that system. The following concerns were shared by numbers of people across the state and submitted to the court:

The settlement agreement provides that Mississippi has until October to work with outside experts and Children’s Rights to create a detailed plan to reform the system. If the plaintiffs agree that the plan is adequate to bring about the full-scale change needed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the state’s foster children, it will be submitted to the court to become a binding court order. If the plaintiffs determine that the plan is inadequate, the agreement provides for the district court to decide what relief should be granted after a hearing scheduled to begin on December 3.

“Court approval of this settlement agreement will mark a new day for the children of Mississippi, as it will allow the parties to move directly to bringing system-wide reform of the foster care system. This will ensure that MDHSprovides the services, care and protection each foster child in this state deserves,” said Melody McAnally, of the Jackson, Mississippi office of Bradley Arant Rose & White, LLP.

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