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Understaffed Mississippi Department of Human Services Abandons Children in Emergency Shelters for Over a Year

A Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) document obtained as part of the ongoing child welfare reform lawsuit, Olivia Y. v. Barbour, identifies 168 children in emergency shelters statewide who, as of December 2004, had been left there an average of 124 days (over 4 months) each during their current shelter stay.

Many of these same children have been previously placed in emergency shelters for average additional stays of 80 days (over 2.5 months). Emergency shelters are designed to hold children for only a short period of time at their initial intake into the system, until caseworkers identify an appropriate foster home in which to place them.

In all four counties cited above, caseworker caseloads are at “Beyond Danger!” levels (40+ children per caseworker):

“DHS is so understaffed that abused children are simply being parked and forgotten in emergency shelters for months at a time,” said Eric Thompson, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights, representing the plaintiff children. “Children growing up in shelters are being robbed of their childhoods.”

“Children removed from their parents or guardians by DHS because of abuse should not be victimized again by the State’s indifference,” said Stephen Leech, local co-counsel for the plaintiff children. “Emergency shelters are only designed for short emergency stays before DHS identifies a foster home.”

On March 14, U.S. District Court Judge ruled that Olivia Y. v. Barbour should proceed as a class action. The approximately 3,000 foster children in Mississippi are now covered by the lawsuit. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in theOlivia Y. v. Barbour case are obtaining thousands of documents from DHS and are taking depositions of DHSadministrators and caseworkers. Fact-finding should be completed by October 13, 2005, with a trial expected in February 2006.

Jackson, Mississippi attorneys Wayne Drinkwater and Melody McAnally with Bradley, Arant, Rose & White, and Stephen Leech are local co-counsel. Also co-counsel are John Lang and Chris Carbone of Loeb & Loeb, LLP, with offices in New York and Nashville.

Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210