Federally, the only law that protects the safety of children in the U.S. is the “IMMINENT HARM DOCTRINE” which allows the court to remove a child whose life is endangered in the home.
Because of very weak support in many states, too many children in horrid circumstances are ignored and those that do receive help are seriously under-served. It is no wonder that courts and prisons are packed and schools suffer as they are forced to deal with terribly damaged children.
The following article from the Hattiesburg American is worth reading in it’s entirety;
Department of Human Services Region VI office in Hattiesburg.
Adoption specialist Stephanie Mott, left, and Marcelene Thompson discuss a case at the Mississippi Department of Human Services Region VI office.
- Sunday: How much progress has been made since Olivia Y. v. Barbour?
- Today: Foster care workers see positive change.
- Tuesday: Pine Belt families provide a place for foster kids to call home.
- Wednesday: Foster care helped put Hub City woman on the right path.
- Thursday: Former foster child has mission to help others.
- Friday: What’s next for foster care in Mississippi?
At a glance: Olivia Y. v. Barbour
The class-action lawsuit Olivia Y. v. Barbour was filed in 2004 by Children’s Rights, a New York-based nonprofit advocacy group.
That lawsuit, filed against then-Gov. Haley Barbour, as well the directors of the state Department of Human Services and Division of Family and Children’s Services, exposed an abundance of the system’s disturbing failings in an effort to reform them.
They ranged from a too-high percentage of children placed in group homes rather than foster homes, to the shoddy oversight of kids’ medical treatment and physical safety.
- Improving foster care
- Ministry provides place for kids to call home
- ‘Appropriate match’ for kids the goal
- Foster care helped turn woman’s life around
- Parents voice concerns about foster care system
- Families open hearts, homes to foster children
- Aid for youngest, longest in system
- Olivia Y. v. Barbour: Has foster care system ‘danger’ subsided since 2004?
- Foster care: Gains made, more needed
Perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to foster care in Mississippi was a class-action lawsuit initiated by an advocacy group some 1,200 miles away.
Since its 2004 filing, Olivia Y. v. Barbour has shaken the state’s system to its core, not only revamping procedures and policies aimed at bolstering children’s safety and the reunification of families but also restructuring the environment of those working to make those goals happen.
“It’s not what it used to be,” said Hollye Alvarado, a family protection worker with the Division of Family and Children’s Services of the Mississippi Department of Human Services Region VI. “I definitely wouldn’t have been here without the lawsuit because there’s so many positive changes from it.
“Because of the lawsuit, you really feel like they are concerned about the safety of children. There’s no way I would be here if it was the way that we watched (going through) training. I’ll probably cry thinking about it, some of the sad things.”
Times can be tough in a world that by its very nature, at times, can be intellectually demoralizing and emotionally draining.
Times were even tougher before Olivia Y.
“I know for the people coming in, it’s overwhelming,” Alvarado said. “They complain, and it’s not fair to say, ‘Well, you weren’t here when I was.’
“But it’s not the same. It’s just not.”
Jolie Kerenick has worked in child-related fields since the mid-1990s, in Texas and Mississippi before taking over as regional director for Region VI.
As of Aug. 6, Forrest County had 77 foster children in the system, and 47 resource homes. Lamar County had 25 foster children and 22 resource homes.
“I know that people will say, years ago, it was nothing, for instance, for a caseload that was strictly in Forrest County, for foster children, to be 30, 40, 50,” Kerenick said.
“The reason I mention that is (the settlement) really is allowing us to have the tools we need to increase the quality of our practice,” she said. “It’s caused some good things to happen in foster care in Mississippi.”
The suit, brought by Children’s Rights Inc. in New York, led to a settlement agreement reached in 2008 to radically change Mississippi’s child welfare system. Modified in 2012, the agreement led to a number of changes, including:
- Reduced caseloads per field worker”My highest (now) is probably 11,” Kerenick said of her region that includes Forrest, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River, Perry and Stone counties. “It’s very, very manageable, which really allows them to do better quality work because they have fewer children to focus on.”
- Caseloads weighted on immediacy and severity.”It’s not just a straight number,” Kerenick said. “Our social workers can do investigations or they can have children who are in custody on their caseload. They can have prevention cases, where the court isn’t involved yet, but we’re working with a family to try and prevent having to take those kids into custody. Things are given a weight and caseloads are weighted.”Alvarado, who has spent about nine years in the field, the past 3 1/2 at Region VI, said she was appreciative of the change.”I had double what I have now, and just the distribution is more mindful of the kind (of case) you get,” she said. “You have more high-maintenance cases, then they look more closely at what you have going on.”It just seems it’s easier navigating through the court system, compared to when I came in. We were almost vomiting then because you were so nervous, but now, it’s a lot better.”
- Supervisors can oversee no more than five workers.”We are very close to meeting that standard in my region,” Kerenick said. “Where we’re not meeting it is because I have not had qualified candidates. It’s not been because I’ve been told I can’t.”According to Mississippi Department of Human Services’ statistics, Division of Family and Children’s Services has grown to about 1,500 positions since 2008.In 2008, there were 1,204 positions allocated to the division, of which 786 were filled. There currently are 1,517 positions, with 1,208 filled.”That’s a significant increase,” Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julia Bryan said in an email.
Kerenick oversees 51 foster care workers in six counties, and another 15 home licensers who investigate and evaluate potential “resource” homes.
The Division of Family and Children’s Services has seen its retention of front-line workers increase over the past three years.
In fiscal year 2011, the turnover rate was nearly 11 percent. That rate rose to nearly 14.4 percent in 2012.
Through the first 10 weeks of the state’s 2013 fiscal year, the turnover rate was 4.43 percent.
Kerenick said retention can be an issue, but that the new regulations and policies sprung from the lawsuit have helped.
“There used to be problems with retention, particularly in Forrest County and that was really related to the high caseloads,” she said. “With the caseloads being more manageable, that’s really helping in retaining the staff that we have and that we train.
“We’re not seeing that much turnover at all. In fact, Forrest County is one of the better-staffed counties in the state.”
Constance Mingo, a recent University of Southern Mississippi graduate, has been at Region VI for about six months and found that the experience “has been what I expected and more.”
“It’s a calling and a passion to work with families and kids, reuniting them, and working with them, so that they can be the best that they can be,” she said.
But putting back together families and creating cocoons of safety for children, who may not have ever had any sense of security, can take its toll.
“It’s hard and it’s stressful in a lot of different ways,” Kerenick said. “We see some things that people should not have to see. I continue to be shocked by some of the things that kids have to endure.
“But there are so many positive things, though, and that’s what keeps us in it. Those that I know, who are in it and stay in it, it’s really those positive things, like a child being reunified with a father who didn’t even know he had a child, and then as soon as he did, he stepped up.”
Alvarado said the work takes a certain avocation. But it also takes time.
“It’s a difficult job and there’s so much to do and learn, and it takes more than a year,” she said. “I was about two years in before I felt like I knew something just because everything changes and every family is so different.”
To survive, though, it takes the ability to live within others’ lives.
“You try not to take it home it with you, but then there are plenty of times that you do, in one way or another,” Alvarado said.
“If it’s not the emotional side, then you might be thinking about what else you can do for a family, or, ‘Oh, I need to make that phone call.’
“There just might be other little things that may not be as pressing, but I don’t think I’ve never not thought about it in some way.”