An advocacy group is asking a federal judge to step in and take over Mississippi's child welfare system. The groups says the state has failed to make the reforms it promised in a court settlement seven years ago.
The New York based group, A Better Childhood, says the Mississippi Department of Human Services has not done enough to fulfill the requirements of a court settlement known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour. The case claimed children in state custody were neglected and being placed in dangerous situations. Marcia Lowry is the executive director of A Better Childhood.
"What the settlement agreement requires is that the state reform things like caseloads that are adequate to take care of children, training for workers and also produce better outcomes for children -- keeping them from being maltreated while they're in care," says Lowry. "The state has failed to do that."
Lowry is asking that a federal judge place Mississippi's child welfare system under the supervision of a third party. A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services declined to comment on the request, but a report found on the department's own website says D.H.S. has not been able to satisfy the settlements requirements.
Wayne Drinkwater is a Jackson attorney representing the group, A Better Childhood.
"There will always be children in state custody in Mississippi because there'll always be parents or caregivers who are going to abuse kids or neglect them," says Drinkwater. "That's always going to be the case. We hope it'll kind of get to a steadily improving situation for abused and neglected kids where they're treated constitutionally once they're taken into the state system."
Before a third-party can take over, the judge must first set a hearing to establish whether the state is making progress towards fulfilling the settlement.