/Olivia Y plaintiffs to Bryant Replace CPS head or go to court

Olivia Y plaintiffs to Bryant Replace CPS head or go to court

Plaintiffs in the Olivia Y. suit cited a “failure to lead” and asked a federal judge to appoint an external receiver to manage the agency. Mississippi Today was told by Marcia Lowry that she only filed the motion to contempt after being asked by the plaintiffs. Phil Bryant should replace Jess Dickinson as head of Child Protection Services. Lowry stated that Dickinson’s tenure has left the agency far from meeting the terms of the settlement in Olivia Y. a 2004 lawsuit that was responsible for dismantling and rebuilding the state foster care agency. Lowry pointed out that the agency’s inability to hire enough caseworkers is a continuing problem that “puts Mississippi children at risk.” “I don’t believe that the current administration will be able to address the serious problems they face,” Lowry stated. Bryant, who had appointed Dickinson only nine months prior, said that he was supporting Dickinson and that the former Supreme Court Justice was leading the agency in the right direction. “I am happy with the progress CPS made,” Bryant said. He noted that the agency had reduced by 700 the number children in foster care over the past 14 months, and almost doubled the number adopted in the current fiscal year. Bryant stated in the statement that he is confident that there will be continued progress under current leadership, as we vigorously resist plaintiffs’ legal maneuvering. Bryant’s claims regarding foster care and adoption are supported by agency data last week. Child Protection Services reports that the number of children placed in state foster care has fallen dramatically from April 2017 to 6,094 in May 2018 and to 5,403 by May 2018. CPS completed 302 adoptions in fiscal 2017. CPS has completed 574 adoptions in fiscal 2018, which ended June 30. Bryant said during a news conference Thursday afternoon about economic development that “we believe that we are in compliance” and that the agency had made progress in the two-year period since the Legislature voted to establish CPS as an independent agency. CPS was a subagency of Department of Human Services until late 2015. Another requirement of the Olivia Y. settlement was that CPS be given proper funding. “We are confident that we are making progress in the right direction to ensure safety and protection for at-risk children, their families, and their families. “We disagree with the claims of the plaintiff and will continue to work diligently every day to care for thousands of abused or neglected children entrusted in our custody for protection,” Child Protection Services stated in its statement. Data released earlier this month show that the agency has not been in compliance with the Olivia Y. settlement. CPS must have enough caseworkers to effectively manage all the children it monitors, as per the settlement that the agency reached in late 2016. Child Protection Services has not been able to meet minimum staffing requirements, according to data released earlier in the month. Public Catalyst, a consulting firm that monitors the agency, found that only 61% of caseworkers had cases sufficiently small to comply with the settlement at the end of 2017. The goal was 90 percent. The compliance rate was even lower as only 52 percent of caseworkers had been responsible for ensuring that the right number of cases were being handled by them. According to the settlement, almost half of caseworkers were working beyond their capacity. Complex reasons explain the decline in compliance. CPS has increased its number of caseworkers by 22 since the beginning of 2018, going from 823 to 855. Bryant pointed out that while the number of foster children has decreased by 700 in the past year, CPS has added 22 caseworkers, going from 823 to 845. However, the total number monitored by CPS workers has increased 1200, increasing 1200 from 14,476 and 15,693 over the first four months 2018. Dickinson stated that although the agency was steadily adding new staff, it was unable to meet settlement requirements due to the sheer volume of Mississippi Gulf Coast children. CPS caseworkers have had to deal with high turnover rates for a long time. In January, the legislature authorized the agency to raise the starting salary of its caseworkers by $4,000 from $26,000 to $30,000 per year. It is not clear if this has increased retention. A request for information about staff turnover was not answered by the agency on Thursday. However, the agency has lost many high-profile leaders since the beginning of the year. Dickinson, in a memo to staff, announced last week that Tracey Melone, the Deputy Commission of Child Welfare, would be retiring this summer. Cindy Greer, the deputy commissioner for information technology and welfare, resigned earlier in the month. Takesha Darby was the agency’s deputy chief financial officer. She resigned shortly after the announcement of the $39 million deficit. The Legislature also funded the agency at the same level it did last year, which was $110 million for fiscal 2019. Dickinson stated in April that this is a problem if the agency has to hire more staff. Dickinson wondered if Olivia Y.’s strict requirements reflected what was best for the child. He suggested that an alternative to overcrowding caseloads would be to place the children in unsuitable homes. Dickinson stated, “We’re going item by item down the budget, and trying to determine what can we spend, and what can I cut that won’t affect the safety of our children.” “And those decisions are mine regardless of Olivia Y. requirements.” Lowry responded that a child who is not properly supervised is also at risk. This is the root of the Olivia Y. lawsuit. Six children in foster care sued Mississippi in 2004 for failing to provide adequate care for their children in state custody. Three-year-old Olivia Y. was so neglected by her foster family, she weighed just 22 pounds when the state intervened. The plaintiffs, collectively known as Olivia Y., were sided by a federal court. The resulting settlement has completely remade CPS and made staffing one of its pillars. Many saw Bryant’s appointment of Dickinson as the CPS chief in September 2015 as a straightforward decision. Former state Supreme Court justice Dickinson seemed like a natural successor to David Chandler, his former colleague on the bench. Chandler had been widely praised for his work with CPS since he took the reins in 2015. Dickinson quickly proved that he was not afraid to upset even the most powerful legislators. Dickinson shocked legislators in January when he announced that his agency faced a record-breaking $39million deficit. He blamed a “legislative mistake” and many lawmakers accepted the blame. They didn’t fully examine how the creation of Child Protection Services as a separate agency within the Department of Human Services would impact its funding. Senator Terry Burton, R.-Newton, said that “we thought we could handle it ourselves, but we went out to do it wrong.” Dickinson, the executive director of Department of Human Services, was asked about the solution to the funding problem. Many lawmakers were quick questioning why Dickinson didn’t notify Congress three months after joining CPS. Others also questioned whether Dickinson understood the agency’s funding process. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), Senate Appropriations Chair, stated in January that “these agencies, we depend upon them and their experts for us to tell us what goes into that federal line.” Lowry also stated that she was frustrated by Dickinson’s answers regarding his agency’s budget, especially the 2018 deficit of nearly $40 million. However, she has never received an explanation. Lowry stated that she tried to understand the meaning of the new commissioner’s comments when he spoke in the newspaper about the deficit. “We never got to the bottom of it.” Lowry said that she had asked for information on how the legislature’s decision not to increase funding for 2019 would impact staffing, but has yet to receive any answers. Dickinson stated to Mississippi Today in April that “nobody has been able to explain how this happened.” He said that the 2018 deficit was due to the attempt by agency leadership to get the legislature “to increase spending authority” for their new agency. Dickinson stated in April that “they over-represented expenses and revenues” in his attempt to reach a correct bottom line. It’s evident that it has been a difficult task to rebuild an agency after the lawsuit has languished for 14 years. Bryant said Thursday that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are making a lot of cash keeping this case afloat. They don’t want to settle it.” Lowry from the nonprofit A Better Childhood offered a different perspective. “We don’t want to cause any disruption just for the sake. We have exhausted all options and are not planning to stop trying. “Enough is enough.”