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Mississippi Press Releases

STATE AGREES TO NEW SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN FOSTER CARE CASE; ONE YEAR TIME-OUT, AND THEN GRADUATED COMPLIANCE (12.19.16)

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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2nd Modified Settlement Agreement and Reform Plan
Stipulated Third Remedial Order

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

Categories
Mississippi Press Releases

FOSTER-CARE RECEIVERSHIP REMAINS AN OPEN ISSUE IN THE OLIVIA Y. LAWSUIT (05.19.16)

FOSTER-CARE RECEIVERSHIP REMAINS AN OPEN ISSUE IN THE OLIVIA Y. LAWSUIT

State Agrees Not to Contest Noncompliance in Most Recent Period and to Implement Expert Recommendations

Olivia Y. v. Bryant, Case No. 3:04-CV-251-LN, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division

The judge in the federal court foster-care lawsuit Olivia Y. v. Bryant today approved an agreement, once again postponing court action on plaintiffs’ request for the appointment of a receiver to take over the Mississippi foster care system. In the agreement, the state acknowledged that it would “not contest a finding of noncompliance” for the most recent period, which ran through June 2015. The state also agreed to take on a number of additional commitments recommended by an expert consulting group as part of the pending contempt motion filed in March 2015.

Attorneys for the plaintiff foster children have agreed to postpone until October 17 their motion asking the federal court to appoint a receiver over the Mississippi foster care system. However, the plaintiffs can move forward with that motion at any time after receiving an update on the state’s progress, which will take place no later than July 15.

The state is currently obligated to implement recommendations made by the expert group, Public Catalyst, within specified time periods, as a result of the contempt motion. Under this new interim agreement the state is also required to accept new caseload standards set by the expert group and to reduce the number of children in unlicensed facilities and homes at a rate and within time periods set by the expert group. According to a report by the court monitor prepared in December 2015, during the period ending June 2015 there were 697 children in such placements.

The other areas in which the state is already directed to make measurable changes are in management, caseloads, increased salaries for workers and smartphones or computers for them, and the development of new placements. The expert group is responsible for providing technical assistance to the state and for reporting on whether the state is complying with the court-ordered requirements.

Within the next six months, the expert group will also conduct a second desk audit of the agency’s caseloads and make determinations of how many children are in unlicensed foster homes and how many foster-care placements are available for children.

The agreement also provides that by October 1 the court monitor will complete an in-depth analysis of whether the state’s screening and investigation of maltreatment of children in Mississippi foster care comports with professional standards and with the requirements of the settlement agreement in the lawsuit.

“Mississippi has profound and unaddressed shortcomings in its foster-care system that have subjected far too many of its children to grievous harm,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood and the lead attorney for the plaintiff children. “Under the pressure of this contempt motion, the state has indicated that it may finally be committed to addressing these shortcomings. Right now, we are watching carefully to see whether the state can finally demonstrate that it can do so or whether we need to ask the federal court to act.”

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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Stipulated Second Remedial Order

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

Categories
Mississippi Press Releases

FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM GOT WORSE IN MOST RECENT PERIOD; CREATES “UNREASONABLE RISKS” FOR MISSISSIPPI FOSTER CHILDREN (01.06.16)

FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM GOT WORSE IN MOST RECENT PERIOD; CREATES “UNREASONABLE RISKS” FOR MISSISSIPPI FOSTER CHILDREN

New report in Olivia Y. v. Bryant case cites systemic failings in death of baby; court monitor finds it “imperative to address the ongoing limitations in defendants’ performance on an urgent basis.”

Olivia Y. v. Bryant, Case No. 3:04-CV-251-LN, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division

The state’s compliance with court-ordered requirements to protect children in the Mississippi foster-care system has worsened, according to a new report issued today by the court monitor in the Olivia Y. federal-court lawsuit. The state previously admitted that it had failed to comply with its obligations under the settlement agreement for the two previous years.

In addition to reviewing data demonstrating the State’s failure to comply, the monitor’s report summarizes a case study on the death of an infant during the most recent reporting period. The infant died within five days after entering state foster-care custody. After summarizing the state’s failures to meet statewide and regional court-ordered standards, “by considerable margins,” the report states that the case summary of the baby’s death “illustrates how the failure to maintain these standards may increase the risk of tragic outcomes.”

Among the critical unmet standards discussed in the monitor’s report are those “intended to ensure the safety of children” in state custody. The report underlines the state’s failure to maintain a sufficient number of properly licensed and supervised foster homes and a failure to have in place “an adequate number of qualified, trained, and properly supervised caseworkers who are not overburdened by excessive caseloads.”

Summary of baby’s death
The infant’s death illustrates failures in the state’s foster-care system. The baby was placed into a foster home in a region that has experienced severe staffing shortages along with a steep increase in the number of children in custody. No one from the state had ever inspected the home where the baby died before the baby was placed there, and two sibling groups had been removed from the foster home after reports of maltreatment. The foster parents’ own infant previously died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, under circumstances similar to this baby’s death.

In a report evaluating the factors leading up to the infant’s death, Judith Meltzer of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, an expert retained by the monitor, concluded that system failures contributed to the infant’s death, including:

  • failure to properly collect and document information significant to the licensing process. There was no evidence that information about the foster mother’s arrest, job loss, and medications was considered or even collected before the licensing decision occurred;
  • failure to record information in the case record. Ms. Meltzer found significant problems with the completeness and quality of documentation. She stated that the investigation narratives regarding the baby’s death were “unclear … at times incomprehensible and occasionally inconsistent.” She also noted many incomplete or contradictory case-record entries. The monitor found that the deficiencies noted by Ms. Meltzer “… are not unusual. Indeed the data related to defendants’ performance during period 5 … firmly supports this conclusion.”

Summary of provision of medical care
The monitor’s report also includes the results of a case-record review of medical care for children in state custody. The monitor found significant deficits in medical, mental health, and dental care afforded to children in the state’s custody.
The case record review found that:

  • Only 2% of children received a comprehensive health exam within 30 days of entering foster-care custody;
  • Only 17% of three year olds in foster-care custody who needed a developmental health assessment received it within 30 days;
  • Only 2% of foster parents received all medical information on a newly placed child within 15 days of placement.

The monitor’s report concludes that during the most recent period, the state’s performance deteriorated in many critical areas. Areas that performed relatively well earlier performed worse, and “the already-overburdened workforce faced a substantial increase in the number of children in custody and had neither sufficient placement resources nor an adequate array of services at its disposal.”

Status of case
On December 22, the Court entered an Interim Remedial Order which requires:

  • Establishment of a Division of Family and Children’s Services independent of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, led by an Executive Director who reports directly to the Governor;
  • Completion of a caseload analysis to help determine the appropriate number of caseworkers and supervisors needed by the state;
  • Increased compensation for DFCS caseworkers and supervisors to levels of similarly qualified staff in other agencies;
  • Providing smartphones, tablets, and adequate computer support for caseworkers;
  • Development of new foster homes.

Plaintiffs have asked the Court to appoint a receiver for the state’s foster-care system. That motion has been adjourned until May 15, 2016.

“The facts could not be more clear. The foster-care system in Mississippi is well beyond crisis,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of the non-profit advocacy organization A Better Childhood and lead attorney for the foster children. “Children who are in foster care because they have already been abused or neglected are in continuing danger from the state itself. The responsible government officials know that there are far too few foster homes, too few workers, and foster children being placed in homes that either are not or should not be licensed. As the most recent monitor’s report demonstrates, the state does not even maintain adequate records to document what is happening to babies placed in its care. This must stop.”

Plaintiffs are also represented by Wayne Drinkwater and Michael Bentley, of the Jackson, MS, office of the law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, and by Christian Carbone and Dan Friedman, of the law firm of Loeb and Loeb.

According to Drinkwater, “more than seven years have passed since the state promised to cure the constitutional violations in its foster-care system. Those promises have not been honored, and we doubt that Mississippi is willing or able to operate a legal and humane child-welfare system. If it does not, we believe that the Court may be forced to place the system under the control of a court-appointed receiver.”

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, is lead counsel in the Olivia Y. v. Bryant lawsuit since the case was filed in 2004.

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Monitor’s Report for Period 5

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425