Eleven years ago, a child advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi on behalf of eight children in the state's child foster care system.
Among the plaintiffs was a girl identified in court documents only as Olivia Y. According to the website for the organization that filed the lawsuit, New York based Children's Rights, Olivia was removed from her home at the age of 3 and was so severely neglected that she only weighed 22 pounds.
"During her first first three months in custody, Olivia was moved between five placements, including one home where a convicted rapist was residing," the website states.
According to the lawsuit, the state Division of Family and Children's Services failed to provide Olivia and the other children with necessary medical assessments and health care.
Eleven years later, the state has yet to meet minimum requirements mandated under two court-ordered settlements that were a result of the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are now asking that the state work with consultants who will recommend changes, including the possibility of taking the state's child welfare unit out from under the wing of the Department of Human Services, the Associated Press reports.
A progress report issued by a court monitor in 2014 found that foster care conditions had improved in some areas, but was still floundering in others.
According to the report, the state failed to collect accurate data, showed little progress in some regions and in only 36 percent of the cases were investigations launched within 24 hours of an abuse allegation and completed with supervisory approval in 30 days.
The court monitor found the system was plagued by staffing shortages and that in-home visits were not being conducted as often as required and that some children were not being put under licensed foster care. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Phil Bryant issued the following statement: "My intent is to improve conditions for children who find themselves in foster care in Mississippi. These children must be protected, and that is why I have advocated the creation of a children's cabinet. I'll be the first to admit that Mississippi can and will do better, and I became personally involved in this issue several months ago."
U.S. District Judge Tom Lee has scheduled an Aug. 10 hearing but that could be delayed to give both sides an opportunity work out details for a new agreement.
This needs to be resolved soon. Olivia, who was later adopted, would be 14 years of age by now. Some children, especially those with mental issues, remain in foster care until they age out.
Caring for vulnerable children is a responsibility that can't be perpetually postponed. Attorney's for the plaintiff had previously argued that Lee should appoint someone to take over the state's child foster care program.
That request has been withdrawn for now pending the potential agreement. The state has had 11 years to fix the problem. If they fail again, perhaps it is time to turn it over to someone else