JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI – Working closely with the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights Inc., Loeb & Loeb LLP attorneys were successful in reaching a settlement agreement with the state of Mississippi mandating top-to-bottom reform of Mississippi’s long-failing child welfare system. The settlement and reform plan, submitted to the court for approval, resolves the class action lawsuit known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour, which was filed in 2004 on behalf of the approximately 3,500 abused and neglected children in the custody of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services (DHS).
The court-enforceable agreement requires DHS to better protect children from further maltreatment in foster care and to place them in permanent homes as quickly as possible, rather than shuffling them between multiple homes and institutions. The agency must also reduce its workers’ caseloads, increase the frequency of caseworker visits to children in foster care, and provide timely health-care services to the children in its custody. The reforms are to be implemented over a period of five years.
“We appreciate that Mississippi has abandoned the defense of a underfunded foster care system riddled with long-standing and serious flaws, including dangerously overburdened case workers, and has agreed to begin necessary reforms to provide a brighter future for the thousands of foster care children we represent,” said John Piskora, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb who worked closely with the clients for the duration of the case.
In addition to Piskora, a long list of Loeb & Loeb attorneys and paralegals contributed to this victory including Christian D. Carbone, Daniel Murphy, Ben King, Allan Edmiston, Greg Schwed, Paula Colbath and Geri Papa.
“After decades of maintaining a system widely known to place abused and neglected children in further danger, Mississippi has finally made a commitment to fix it,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, founder and executive director of Children’s Rights. “The road to reform will be long, but Children’s Rights will remain vigilant as long as necessary to hold the state accountable for its promises to implement a constitutionally adequate system.”
Among the specific requirements of today's agreement are:
- Providing foster children with required medical and mental health screenings, assessments, and care;
- Providing foster children with at least two in-person caseworker visits per month to monitor their safety and well-being;
- Bringing the rate of abuse and neglect of children in foster care down to 0.33%, consistent with federal standards;
- Licensing all foster family homes, including kinship care homes;
- Increasing foster care reimbursement rates to reflect the actual costs of caring for foster children;
- Limiting caseloads to 14 cases per worker;
- Appointing an independent court monitor to ensure the timely implementation of reforms.
A hearing for final approval of the settlement is scheduled for December 11.
About Children’s Rights: Children’s Rights is a national watchdog organization advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children in the United States. Since 1995, Children’s Rights has used legal action and policy initiatives to create lasting improvements in child protection, foster care, and adoption. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.
About Loeb & Loeb LLP: Loeb & Loeb LLP is a multiservice national law firm with 275 attorneys and offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Nashville. The firm is recognized as a leading law firm in the areas of corporate and securities matters; litigation; entertainment and media law; finance; real estate; intellectual property; private equity; employment; advertising and promotions and tax and wealth services. Our clients include some of the world’s largest financial institutions, major media and entertainment companies, NYSE, NASDAQ and Amex listed public companies, advertising groups, real estate companies, and Big Four accounting firms, as well as many high net worth individuals.