STATE AGREES TO NEW SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN FOSTER CARE CASE; ONE YEAR TIME-OUT, AND THEN GRADUATED COMPLIANCE
Olivia Y. v. Bryant, Case No. 3:04-CV-251-LN, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division
The state of Mississippi has agreed to a one year time-out and then graduated compliance in the Olivia Y. v. Bryant Mississippi child welfare case, in an order signed by the federal court on Monday. However, at any point during the first three years of the new agreement, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit can invoke their claim for a receivership over the entire child welfare system.
With a new administration in place, and with a renewed commitment to actually delivering improved outcomes for children, the state has agreed to using the next year for producing better results and building its capacity to finally move forward. The state has received a large increase in funding from the legislature during the most recent session, which is primarily being used to reduce caseloads, has already separated itself into a free-standing agency, and has begun the process of improving services. Next year will be a period of capacity building, and the state will be held accountable for achieving specific outcomes starting in 2018. Meanwhile, however, the threat of a receivership remains over the agency for the next three years.
The state and plaintiffs submitted the revised 2nd Modified Mississippi Settlement Agreement and Reform Plan, and Stipulated Third Remedial Order, to the Court on Friday, and the Court entered the agreements on Monday. The revised 2nd Modified Settlement Agreement goes into effect at the beginning of 2018. Meanwhile, during the next year, the Stipulated Third Remedial Order will govern, and sets out the tasks that the state will have to accomplish during the coming year.
“We congratulate the state on its willingness to acknowledge how far it still has to go, and its recognition that receivership remains a real threat,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, the national child advocacy organization which is leading the work. “This is a significant commitment to bringing caseloads down to professional standards, to making sure all children are in licensed homes, and to ensuring that all children are in homes or facilities that actually are able to care for them. They have a lot of work to do, but we are ready to work with them to see that it gets done.”
The child welfare management group, Public Catalyst, will be working with the state and providing guidance to it. Starting in 2018, Public Catalyst will function as the monitor and will issue reports on the state’s compliance with the new standards.
During the next year, the state will have to ensure that caseloads are lowered to professional standards. All relative homes will be licensed by June 30, 2017, and all children will be placed in licensed homes thereafter. Starting in 2018, new performance standards will be applied to maltreatment in care, health care, permanency, child visitation, and hotline screening.
A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, has been lead counsel in the Olivia Y. v. Bryant lawsuit since the case was filed in 2004.
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A Better Childhood