It’s disheartening that the state is still wrangling with implementing reforms to protect children in state custody.
I have been writing about the Olivia Y case since the original federal lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of children in the state’s foster care system.
The original complaint detailed physical and psychological harm suffered by the children while known to, or in the custody of, the Department of Human Services Division of Family and Children’s Services. Citing the state’s own reports, the lawsuit alleged incidents of sexual abuse, unqualified employees, backlogged cases, shortages of safe foster homes and fiscal mismanagement, among other problems.
In 2008, the state entered into a federal settlement agreement, saying DHS would do, among other things: Hire more social workers and increase the number of visits the workers make to each foster child; increase its offerings of educational and therapeutic services for foster parents and children; better monitor children’s physical and mental health when they enter foster care; and establish a 24-hour hotline so people could report abuse, and increase reimbursement rates for foster parents.
The state has never been in compliance with the settlement agreement. Last week, the state admitted it.
Children in the foster care system often have been abused, neglected and victimized. Certainly, no one would want them to be further victimized by a system that is supposed to protect them.
It appears with last week’s admission by the state, and Gov. Phil Bryant’s vow to improve the foster care system, that the state is finally getting serious about the issue. Let’s hope that is the case.
Bryant has agreed to hire an executive director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services and waive state salary parameters 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 be structured and what the state needs to do to remedy all of its violations of the court-ordered reform plan. The group will also recommend qualified applicants from which the governor will select the agency’s 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, according to the updated agreement approved last week.
Bryant was right when he said the state can do better to protect children in the foster care system.
Contact Jimmie E. Gates at (601) 961-7212 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jgatesnews on Twitter.