Categories
Mississippi Press Releases

STATE ACKNOWLEDGES NONCOMPLIANCE WITH COURT ORDERS IN LONG-STANDING FOSTER-CARE LAWSUIT (07.23.15)

STATE ACKNOWLEDGES NONCOMPLIANCE WITH COURT ORDERS IN LONG-STANDING FOSTER-CARE LAWSUIT

Governor agrees to hire new Executive Director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services, which will become a cabinet-level position, and a consulting group to recommend the changes necessary to protect Mississippi children.

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

Facing an evidentiary hearing for contempt scheduled to begin in federal court on August 10, the state has conceded that it did not meet court-ordered requirements in the 7-year-old lawsuit Olivia Y. v. Bryant intended to reform the state’s foster-care system.

In an Agreed Order signed by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee on July 23, 2015, the state agreed with factual charges made against it in reports submitted by the court-appointed monitor. In the Order, the parties also agreed on steps that will determine whether the plaintiffs will continue to seek a receivership, this time based on specific recommendations from a neutral consulting group, or whether the state can and will make the changes necessary to finally reform the Mississippi foster care system.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are all of the children in foster care in the state, had asked the court to find the state in contempt of the court orders for reform, and to appoint a receiver to take over the administration of the state’s foster-care system. The state’s admission of noncompliance resolves the first part of the contempt motion. The Order signed by the court today directs the employment of an expert group to make recommendations to achieve compliance and leaves open the question whether a receiver will be required to administer the state’s foster-care system.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004, asserting widespread violations of children’s constitutional rights in the foster-care system. Although the case was settled in 2008, the state has never been in compliance with the terms of the settlement.

This is the second contempt motion filed in the case. After the first motion, a new settlement agreement was approved by the Court but failed to produce necessary results.

“It was clear to us, given the state’s history in implementing these court orders, that the state simply lacks the capacity or the will to run a child-welfare system that protects the children of Mississippi,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, a national advocacy organization that works on behalf of abused and neglected children. “We have asked the federal court to appoint a receiver to take over the system. However, we think the appointment of a well-qualified expert group to make specific recommendations is an important step forward, and we welcome the governor’s recognition of the depth of the problems.”

The governor has agreed to hire an executive director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services and waive state salary requirements for the director and for members of a senior management team. The state has also agreed to hire a national child-welfare consulting group, the Public Catalyst Group, to conduct an organizational analysis of the state’s foster-care system and recommend whether it should be a free-standing agency, how it should structured, and what the state needs to do to remedy all of its violations of the court-ordered reform plan. The expert group will also recommend qualified applicants for the head of the new agency, from which the governor will select the agency’s new director.

The governor has also agreed to call a special session of the legislature, if necessary, to support the reorganization of the child-welfare system and provide additional appropriations to act on the expert group’s recommendations, if the state agrees to adopt them.

The expert group will complete its work in four months, and after that time the state will decide whether to accept its recommendations and negotiate an additional court order to implement the recommendations with the plaintiffs. If the state fails to accept the expert group’s recommendations, the plaintiff children will immediately ask the court to reinstate the hearing on the contempt motion. In that case, with the state already having admitted to noncompliance, plaintiffs will ask the Court to appoint a receiver to implement the changes that the expert group will have recommended.

Plaintiff children are also represented by Wayne Drinkwater and Michael Bentley of the law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings and by Christian Carbone and Dan Freidman of the law firm of Loeb and Loeb.

According to Drinkwater, “we are glad that the state has agreed that additional help is needed to ensure that the children of Mississippi receive constitutionally acceptable treatment in the state’s foster-care system. If the state accepts and fully implements the recommendations of the expert group, we hope that appointment of a receiver to administer the state’s foster-care system will not be necessary.”

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.

Printer-friendly version of the press release
Agreed Order dated July 23, 2015

For more information, please contact:

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

Categories
Mississippi Press Releases

MISSISSIPPI’S CONTINUING FAILURE HAS A “SUBSTANTIAL AND CONTINUING IMPACT ON THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING” OF THOUSANDS OF FOSTER CHILDREN, REPORT CONCLUDES (06.16.15)

MISSISSIPPI’S CONTINUING FAILURE HAS A “SUBSTANTIAL AND CONTINUING IMPACT ON THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING” OF THOUSANDS OF FOSTER CHILDREN, REPORT CONCLUDES

Court Monitor in the Olivia Y. v. Bryant foster-care lawsuit says timeline to protect children is “urgent” because of state’s lack of progress.

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

The most recent report on a seven-and-a-half-year-old court-ordered settlement agreement to protect children in Mississippi’s foster care, issued on June 15, has found that “defendants do not have the capacity” to meet many of the court order’s most basic requirements, developed to protect children in the state’s foster-care system. It underlines and updates the conclusions in a report issued in May 2014, covering the state’s activities during the previous year, which formed the basis for a motion filed in March and now pending in federal court. Plaintiff foster children have asked the federal court to find the state in contempt for failing to implement the settlement agreement, and asked the federal court to appoint a receiver to take over the state’s foster care system.

The federal judge, the Hon. Thomas S. Lee, has scheduled an evidentiary hearing in the federal court in Jackson, beginning Aug. 10th.

This new report covers the state’s efforts to improve the foster-care system from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. According to the report, “Defendants’ ongoing failure to meet these requirements has a substantial and continuing impact on the safety and well-being of thousands of children in defendants’ custody every year.” The court order in the Olivia Y. lawsuit was entered in 2008 to resolve a lawsuit alleging widespread constitutional failings in the state’s foster-care system. The newest report, issued by the court monitor, Grace Lopes, documents years of non‐compliance by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, even after the settlement agreement was renegotiated in 2012 to allow the state more time to meet its obligations.

As the report notes, in comparing problems documented in the May 2014 report, covering Period 3, to those observed in the most recent report, covering Period 4, “There is little evidence that defendants’ implementation strategy is positioning defendants to satisfy the MSA’s [Modified Settlement Agreement] requirements.”

According to the court monitor, “Most of the organizational shortcomings that were evident during Period 3—inadequate regional management capacity and accountability systems, largely unenforced corrective action processes, an inadequate and at times unreliable automated management information system, and insufficient numbers of caseworkers and supervisors—were not addressed effectively during Period 4.” The report continues and points out that as a result of staffing shortages “the defendants undercut their own reform strategy” by diverting dedicated staff to fill gaps in staffing throughout the agency.

The report documents that in many instances the foster-care system’s performance became even worse in the most recent period. Many children’s cases are supervised by workers whose caseloads exceed required standards, basic timely medical care is not being provided to children in foster care, and maltreatment investigations are not taking place on a timely basis. During this period, the state met or exceeded only 24% of the statewide requirements for which the monitor had necessary data to make a finding, and as a general matter regional performance was worse.

“The state has spent millions of dollars to implement a reform strategy that is simply not working, in part because the state itself is undermining it,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood, Inc., a national nonprofit child advocacy organization, who is lead counsel for the plaintiff children. “Unfortunately, it is clear from all that the court monitor has documented that the state of Mississippi is simply not going to protect its most vulnerable children unless the federal court takes additional action to make them do so. Children’s lives depend upon it.”

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.

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. lawsuit since the case was filed in 2004.

Printer-friendly version of the press release
Monitor’s Report for Period 4

For more information, please contact:

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

Categories
Mississippi Press Releases

MISSISSIPPI FOSTER CARE CHILDREN ASK FEDERAL JUDGE TO FIND STATE IN CONTEMPT FOR FAILING TO IMPLEMENT COURT-ORDERED REFORMS OVER A SEVEN-YEAR PERIOD (03.09.15)

MISSISSIPPI FOSTER CARE CHILDREN ASK FEDERAL JUDGE TO FIND STATE IN CONTEMPT FOR FAILING TO IMPLEMENT COURT-ORDERED REFORMS OVER A SEVEN-YEAR PERIOD

Plaintiffs ask for a federal court takeover of the Mississippi child welfare system to ensure that children are protected, citing the state’s lack of capacity to do so.

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

Citing a court monitor’s report finding widespread failures to comply with court-ordered requirements to reform the state’s foster care system, plaintiffs in a long-standing federal lawsuit, Olivia Y. v. Bryant, on Monday filed a motion asking the federal judge in the case to find the state in contempt of court and to appoint a receiver to take over the system to ensure that necessary reforms are made to protect the state’s foster children.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004, asserting widespread violations of the constitutional rights of children in the Mississippi foster care system, and resulted in a settlement agreement approved by the federal court in 2008. After two years of efforts to obtain compliance with the terms of the settlement plaintiffs asked the court in 2010 to find the state in contempt. The court found that the state was in noncompliance with “virtually all areas covered by the agreements” but declined to hold the state in contempt at that time. Instead, the court directed the parties to renegotiate the agreement and to “establish realistic timelines.” A Modified Settlement Agreement was approved by the court in July 2012.

The court monitor, Grace Lopes, who has access to the state’s data and is required to report on the state’s compliance with the Modified Settlement Agreement, noted in her most recent report, “The data that defendants have produced combined with the capacity deficits addressed in this report highlight substantial shortcomings in the defendants’ performance that put children at a continuing and unreasonable risk of harm.”

In their current contempt motion, plaintiffs are asking the court to appoint a group of experts with experience in implementing child welfare system reform. The group would conduct an organizational analysis identifying the systemic deficiencies that need to be remedied in order to achieve compliance with the Modified Settlement Agreement. Plaintiffs are further asking the judge to appoint a receiver with the authority to implement the recommendations of the expert group.

According to the most recent Monitor’s Report, the state is failing to produce reliable data on many of the key elements of the settlement agreement, and of those elements on which data is available it is not meeting the required standards. For example, there is virtually no reliable information on hiring and worker attrition and thus no reliable information on which to determine worker caseloads, no reliable information about maltreatment in care, and virtually no information about how the state addresses problems in the treatment of children. Even in the regions of the state in which a new “Case Practice Model” has been implemented, performance is well below the standards set in the Modified Settlement Agreement.

In their motion, plaintiffs have asked the court to schedule an evidentiary hearing on the issue of contempt and on the appointment of a receiver to administer the state’s child welfare system.

Dr. Viola Miller, who successfully reformed two child welfare systems when she was their director—one in Tennessee, which was under a court order, and one in Kentucky—described the situation in Mississippi as “dire,” in a declaration submitted in support of plaintiffs’ motion. “From what I have read in the Monitor’s Report, it seems highly likely that the child welfare agency in Mississippi lacks the capacity and/or the will to do what is necessary for the children of the state and to act in accordance with the court order which the state negotiated and by which it agreed to be bound,” Dr. Miller stated.

“For over seven years, the court-ordered effort to safeguard Mississippi’s children has been marked by repeated failings on the part of the state, then by negotiations, renegotiations, a court-ordered revision of the initial Settlement Agreement, efforts at alternative approaches, and several additional, targeted court orders, all without producing better protections for Mississippi’s children,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, lead counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of A Better Childhood, a national non-profit child advocacy organization.

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.

“We filed the contempt motion reluctantly,” Drinkwater said, “but we believe that without prompt and significant action by the court, the welfare of the children in Mississippi’s child welfare system is in serious jeopardy.”

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. lawsuit since the case was filed in 2004.


Printer-friendly version of the press release

For more information, please contact:

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