Children's Advocacy Group Sues Mississippi Welfare System

A children's advocacy group is taking the Mississippi Department of Human Services to court on behalf of six children it says have been abused or neglected by the agency.

DHS officials said Tuesday they had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

New York-based Children's Rights Inc. filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson. The group is representing the plaintiff children in the case. Named as defendants are DHS officials and Gov. Haley Barbour.

The lawsuit, which gives only one side of the legal argument, alleges foster children have suffered physical and psychological harm while in the custody of DHS while others were abandoned by the system.

"Mississippi has one of the worst child welfare systems we have ever seen - so understaffed and underfunded that it literally abandons children its knows are being abused and neglected,'' Children's Rights executive director Marcia Robinson Lowry said in a statement.

The lawsuit claims that for more than 10 years, the state has been aware of its failure to serve children who depend on the welfare agency for their safety and fundamental needs.

Among deficiencies cited in the lawsuit are an inadequate number of social workers, a failure to investigate anything other than the most severe cases of abuse, a lack of foster homes for children, and the forfeit of millions of dollars in federal funds for foster care programs.

"Since the state refuses to take action, court-ordered reform is the only route,'' said Chris Carbone of New York, one of the attorneys representing Children's Rights.

"The state should immediately admit it has failed its children and work with us to find solutions to the wide ranging systemic problems.''

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)