The latest report from the court monitor in the long-running Olivia Y case says Mississippi's child welfare system is back-sliding on many critical measures. MPB's Evelina Burnett reports, the state has one more chance to improve its child welfare system.
Mississippi agreed to a new interim remedial order that requires an outside group to certify by May 1 if the state is meeting its obligations.
Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice David Chandler was appointed by the governor to head the Division of Family & Children’s Services last month. Speaking to MPB News just a few weeks after starting his new job, Justice Chandler says he knows he’s got a strict deadline.
“We have to either put up or shut up by May, I would say," he says. "And we are already working day and night to make sure that we have accomplished by May what we have agreed to have accomplished.”
The court monitor's report says even regions that improved the year before, performed worse in the most recent period under review. From July 2014 to July 2015, the time period covered by the report, the number of children in custody grew, caseloads were too high, and there weren't enough placement resources and services. The monitor says these factors contributed to the death of an infant just five days after entering state custody in early 2015.
Marcia Robinson Lowry is with the child advocacy group A Better Childhood. She represents the foster children in the Olivia Y case. She will return to court on May 15 to either affirm the state’s compliance with the new order, or to ask the court to appoint a federal receiver to oversee the system.
“This state has known that its system to protect children who have to come into foster care because they’ve been neglected or abused at home – the most vulnerable children in the state – that the state was not serving those children," she says. "And it still gets worse. How can the state do that to its most vulnerable children?”
Justice Chandler reports directly to Governor Phil Bryant. That’s one of the requirements of the interim order, which also lays out the steps by which the department will begin overseeing its own budget, staff and technology. The interim order also requires such things as salary increases, new technology and a plan to increase family-based placements.