JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Children in state custody are still abused and neglected according to the findings of the court monitor in the ongoing federal lawsuit against Mississippi over its foster care system in a report released Tuesday.
The neutral monitor in the class-action foster care lawsuit Olivia Y. vs. Bryant documents how far off Mississippi is in meeting requirements of the 11-year-old court order to reform the system that's supposed to protect the state's most vulnerable children.
That report states 95 children in Child Protection Service custody were victims of abuse or neglect by caregivers last year, which is more than the three times the agreed-upon standard.
The report said the state mishandled some abuse and neglect investigations.
The court order contains 113 obligations with which the state had agreed to comply, including critical measures ranging from investigating reports of children being maltreated in foster care to timely provision of medical treatment. The monitoring report by a court-appointed monitoring group, found Mississippi met only 37 of those 113 court-ordered requirements in 2018, the first year the state was being measured under a revised settlement agreement.
Failure to meet court-ordered reforms now puts the state at risk of a court-appointed receiver taking over Mississippi's child welfare system.
Examples of referrals the monitoring team concluded should have been investigated for child abuse and neglect include:
- A referral was made by a nurse practitioner expressing concern that child’s foster family was not making sure she was taking her medications.
- A 13-year-old foster child alleged that two years ago, in a previous foster home, she was sexually assaulted by her foster mother’s teenage son. The foster mother was home at the time, but she was in the kitchen and the children were in a separate room. The child did not tell anyone about the assault at the time, but afterwards she disclosed the assault during a visit to the doctor. The child also reported that the foster mother would whoop her across the back with a wide extension cord and it made her bleed. MDCPS screened this referral out as a “duplicate report” stating that the allegations were disclosed by the foster child during an open investigation. However, that investigation referenced a different perpetrator and did no document that any of the allegations in this referral were investigated by MDCPS.
- MDCPS unsubstantiated allegations of child maltreatment after a five-year-old child disclosed that his previous foster mother had put socks in his throat when he was crying and made him squat against the wall as punishment. He alleged that sometimes he was made to do the “wall sits” while in his underwear or naked, and that on at least one occasion, he was made to squat against the wall in the closet. The foster mother admitted to making him squat against the wall, but denied ever putting a sock in his throat. The alleged child victim had been removed from the home prior to the investigation at the request of the foster mother, but two other children were left in the home. The SIU worker noted in her investigative findings that one of the foster children left in the placement was a similar age as the alleged victim child and that she “may be at risk for similar treatment now that [the alleged victim] is no longer there.” The licensing worker met with the foster parents and recommended that a CAP be completed; the home remained opened.
- In one case where the monitoring team concluded that more information was needed, there were allegations of insufficient food in the home and that the foster mother was waking the children up at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m to complete chores. Similar allegations were made against the same foster mother in 2012 by another foster child. It is unclear if the SUI worker noticed this connection before finding the case to be unsubstantiated. The investigation was also completed prior to receiving the results of the forensic interviews MDCPS requested during the investigation. A CAP was completed at the recommendation of the licensing agency, the children were removed, and the home remains open.
Additionally, report shows where MDCPS did not file reports on investigations into group homes, emergency shelters, private child placing agency foster homes, or other facilities licensed by MDCPS.
In a statement from MDCPS, they say they have made significant improvement in its efforts to protect the state’s at-risk, abused and neglected children and their families – but acknowledges they need more time and money to accomplish all that must be done to satisfy the measures of the settlement agreement in the longstanding Olivia Y litigation.
Over the past 18 months, the agency reports they have made the follow improvements:
- Reduced the number of children in state custody by 20 percent from a high of more than 6,100 children in mid-2017 to around 4,700 today
- Doubled the number of finalized adoptions from 302 in fiscal year 2017 to 647 in fiscal year 2018 and is on track to exceed 700 finalized adoption in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019
- Drastically reduced caseload of individual caseworkers. When the federal lawsuit was filed against the agency in 2004, it was not uncommon for workers in many counties to have caseloads of more than 200. Today, the statewide average is around 14 cases per worker
- The agency now inspects and licenses all active foster homes including relative placements before placing children in the homes, provides adequate board payments to support foster parents’ care of children in their custody
- More than doubled the number of finalized adoptions of foster children
- Extensively trains and equips roughly 1,000 frontline workers and supervisors
- MDCPS licensed 431 new non-relative foster homes in 2018, exceeding the annual target of 400 homes established by the monitor after consultation with the Department
- MDCPS established a system of statewide post-adoptive services to stabilize and maintain adoptive placements
- MDCPS Office of Professional Development administered staff training and professional development to the workforce
- MDCPS reported that caseworkers hired in 2018 possessed an approved degree.
In response, Governor Phil Bryant said:
We will have more on this story in tonight’s newscasts.