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Louisiana’s Children Need Strong Advocates

Louisiana’s Children need strong advocates. Louisiana’s children, who have no voice, no political sway, and no authority, need YOU on their side, working to make Louisiana a better place for children! Join the Louisiana Child Advocacy mail list!


Louisiana To Detain Children in Shipping Container Cells

Updated: 04/15/2024  Community rumors about Jackson Parish Correctional Center’s conversion of shipping containers into detention cells for children were confirmed this week during the Baton Rouge Press Club meeting which featured Senator Regina Barrow and Louisiana’s State Child Ombudsman, Judge Kathleen Richey.

Recently, I made a tour of a facility in Jackson Parish where there are 52 children being held, and the plan that the parish has is to put these children into what are called “container units.” It is essentially a tractor-trailer unit, like the 18-wheelers, and the plan is to put six children per container. So I’m working on that.

“Kathleen Richey and State Senator Regina Barrow | Foster Children | Press Club | 04/15/2024” YouTube, uploaded by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, 15 April, 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rQBOjyZc5w 09:44-10:09

Noted: 03/02/2024  In 2010, because Louisiana’s legislature desired “to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the children of this state who are placed in juvenile detention facilities,” the Legislature promulgated a state licensing and inspection law for juvenile detention centers (RS 15:1110) that requires the facilities to be licensed by DCFS.

After three years of work with stakeholders from OJJ and state public safety and corrections organizations to establish uniform licensing standards, on July 1, 2013, Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services began licensing our state’s juvenile justice facilities. The current standards, dated October 1, 2022, are available at Louisiana Juvenile Detention Standards.

Louisiana’s original Juvenile Detention Standards and none of the revisions since 2013 mention the use of shipping containers for children’s jail cells.

According to Falcon Structures on Container Dimensions, “Most commonly, containers are around 10-feet, 20-feet, or 40-feet long, each at around 8 feet wide. The height of each shipping container varies between standard height (8 feet 6 inches) and “high cube” (9 feet 6 inches), which are often used to increase storage space or create better air circulation.”

If the exterior height of a high cube is 9’6″, without serious remodeling, even the tallest standard shipping container does not meet Louisiana’s requirement that sleeping area “ceilings shall be a minimum of 10 feet from ceiling to floor.”

For additional background on using shipping containers as juvenile detention cells – or for prisons of any type – these two articles address questions raised by a new juvenile justice issue in Louisiana.

01/30/2018  Can Shipping Containers Hold Inmates? Yes But Also No, Correctional News

Shipping containers and semi-trailers have also caught on in the industry of incarceration: In at least five countries, shipping containers have held inmates—at times in defiance of basic jail standards.

01/9/2018  Inside a Prefab Missouri Jail Made of Semi-Trailers: Repurposed shipping containers and semi-trailers are finding a new life—as jails. by Daniel A. Gross, Bloomberg

Still, the semi-trailer jail appears to fall well short of several widely accepted standards. For example, the American Correctional Association, or ACA, tells sheriffs in its “Core Jail Standards” that all rooms should have windows that provide natural light—which, according to Arnott, the sleeping trailers lack. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, have similar language. ACA guidelines also require that when jail cells house multiple inmates, they “provide 25 square feet of unencumbered space per occupant.” The sleeping trailers can house 36 inmates each, which translates into 12.5 square feet per inmate—much of which is taken up by bunk beds.

Finally, for Louisiana’s children, Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services may not have a chance to resolve this issue for the state’s juvenile detention facilities. You see, on July 1, 2024, the licensing authority over juvenile detention facilities in Louisiana will be transferred to the Office of Juvenile Justice pursuant to R.S. 15:1110.3. While OJJ will be required to maintain “Licensing standards for juvenile detention centers that comport with nationally recognized and accepted best practice standards,” Louisiana often fails to comport with national standards.

Louisiana has done better

It seems when Louisiana finds the bottom of child well-being, we grab a shovel and dig deeper. This should not be. And some of us remember when it was very different. State agencies gave significant attention to the standards of care expected of public and private facilities.

Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Department of Children and Family Services were once among the few nationally accredited agencies. OJJ (OYD at the time) and DCFS (DSS/OCS at the time) chose objective inspections and certifications to ensure the services Louisiana’s children received were monitored and held to professional standards. This is no longer the case.

Regarding standards for detention, during Richard Stalder’s tenure as Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Office of Juvenile Justice (“OYD” or “Office of Youth Development” at the time) declared that OJJ would only contract to place children in group homes and facilities that the American Correctional Association accredited. The standards of care improved.

These paragraphs from the 2003 Louisiana CFSR Statewide Assessment that DCFS submitted to the feds document the importance that Louisiana’s child-serving state agencies once placed on caring well for children.

“Louisiana DSS/OCS is pursuing COA accreditation. The site visits were completed by the end of May, 2003. A decision from COA on accreditation is expected by December, 2003. DPSC/OYD and all of its contract providers are accredited by the American Correctional Association.” Louisiana CFSR Statewide Assessment, Section V – State Assessment Of Strengths And Needs – page 117.

“The American Correctional Association (ACA) accredits all facilities providing care for foster children in DPSC/OYD custody. Re-accreditation takes place every three years. DPSC/OYD imposes standards of care for contract providers and requires semi-annual monitoring. Ongoing monitoring of agency and Louisiana CFSR Statewide Assessment provider service provision is provided through monthly QA Team case reviews, semi-annual facility monitoring, annual District Office audits, Administrative and Judicial review, Permanency Hearings and ongoing case staffing.” Louisiana CFSR Statewide Assessment, Section II – Systemic Factors – page 6.


Maternal Mortality

Louisiana has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation. Sadly, and to our state’s discredit, 68% of Louisiana’s maternal deaths are deemed preventable. Many are eager to see what will come of the work of the Nursing Maternal Mortality and Preterm Births Task Force created by the Louisiana Legislature in Senate Concurrent Resolution 20: Task force approves recommendations to lawmakers to fight maternal mortality. The Task Force’s January 2024 report is complete in plenty of time for the Legislature’s 2024 Regular Session.

CRITICAL: 07/03/2023:  Maternal Mortality Increases in Louisiana by 93%

Study shows sharp increases in maternal deaths over two decades: Some states see double the number of deaths among non-white populations by Kelcie Moseley-Morris, Louisiana Illuminator

The study, published in the Journal for the American Medical Association on Monday, showed five states with a 93% increase in Black maternal mortality rates: Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas.

Why does this matter for Louisiana’s children?

  • Maternal deaths have a profoundly negative effect on the overall well-being of families. The death of a young mother can create emotional, psychological, and financial burdens for the remaining family members.
  • Newborns are at risk when maternal deaths occur. Without a mother’s care and support, infants face increased health risks, and the baby’s risk of mortality increases.
  • The health and opportunities of the mom’s surviving children are compromised. Children whose development is interrupted by grief experience a decline in their physical and mental health.
  • Those for whom fiscal matters matter must understand that maternal deaths harm communities’ economic productivity. When mothers die, and families struggle to cope with the aftermath, loss of income can push families into poverty and chronic financial straights.

Finally, there is the simple fact that preventable deaths are wrong. We in Louisiana can and must do better in our efforts to reduce maternal deaths.


Summer EBT Update

Update: 04/13/2024:  Louisiana’s decision to reject Summer EBT is not sitting well with some legislators. Stephanie Grace, staff columnist with The Advocate, describes how the Louisiana Legislature is taking a “fresh look” at the Governor’s decision to reject the federal funds for food for children: Stephanie Grace: Tide turning on summer food program.

02/28/2024GOP governors face pressure campaign to feed kids in the summer: Louisiana and South Carolina are among the states where advocates are pushing hard to change their governor’s mind. – POLITICO

02/01/2024, 2:26 pm:  We have an answer regarding the question, Will Louisiana Refuse Food for Hungry Children?

Yes. Louisiana is refusing to participate in Summer EBT. According to DCFS, Louisiana rejected the funds for hungry children and informed the USDA today that our children will not participate in the Summer EBT program, which would have provided food during the three Summer months to help feed nearly 600,000 children.

Dig deeper into Louisiana’s rejection of Summer EBT at Louisiana Rejected Summer EBT Food Funds for Children.


Childhood Immunizations and the Louisiana Legislature

If Louisiana relaxes requirements for childhood immunizations as some have suggested may happen, Louisiana may see headlines like this from The Hill, but in our local news: Measles outbreaks a wake-up call for the unvaccinated  | The Hill


Whole Health Louisiana

Whole Health LouisianaGood for Louisiana Children:   “The Whole Health Louisiana (WHL) State Plan is Louisiana’s first statewide plan to systematically address the widespread issue of childhood adversity and trauma through the integration of trauma-informed and healing-centered approaches in our state’s systems of care and support for children and families. Addressing this issue is critical to the wellbeing and fulfillment of our state’s children, families, and communities.”

“WHL’s mission is to transform Louisiana’s cross-system collaboration and community-specific care, so that together we can effectively prevent, recognize, and treat childhood adversity and its effects, allowing the people of Louisiana to access their full potential.”

“WHL State Plan that includes an overview of trauma-informed and adversity-related concepts, four priority areas with recommendations and objectives to achieve the goal of each priority and an implementation approach that has buy-in across youth and family serving systems. This unified, trauma-informed, State Plan will invest in the full potential of our young people, those who care for them and the workforce that serves them to improve health and safety outcomes for all Louisianans.”

Learn about Whole Health Louisiana at https://ldh.la.gov/page/WholeHealthLouisiana.

Read the Whole Health Louisiana State Plan for 2024–2028.

LDH Press Release (11/30/2023): Whole Health Louisiana State Plan provides a roadmap to become a trauma-informed state.


Provider Directories and Ghost Networks

Quotable:   Regarding proposed legislation to crack down on inaccurate health care provider listings or “ghost networks,” and create stronger enforcement standards to protect those seeking mental health care, Senator Tina Smith said,

“By law, insurance companies must cover mental health just like they cover physical health, yet they’re still finding ways to dodge compliance and deny coverage,” (Senator) Smith said in a statement. “By setting stricter standards and holding insurance companies accountable for inaccurate listings, this legislation will help ensure people can access the mental health care coverage they are entitled to.”


Class Action and Foster Care

New?   Class Action Law Suits Against Child Welfare Agencies by Children in Foster Care

Recently, class action suits have been filed against several state child welfare agencies on behalf of children in foster care. These stories are rich with allegations about child welfare agencies not meeting the essential needs of children in foster care.


Miscellanea

04/01/2024Vaccine opt-out rate for Louisiana children skyrockets. Herd immunity at risk, experts say. by Emily Woodruff | Health care/Hospitals | NOLA.com

Parents opted out of vaccines for Louisiana’s kindergartners at the highest rate in at least a decade as several new bills to weaken vaccine requirements continue to advance in the Louisiana Legislature.

03/03/2024Louisiana’s watchdog for kids blocked from getting records, by Andrea Gallo, NOLA.com


Critical for Louisiana

CRITICAL:  Number of Children in Foster Care

Following a remarkable three-year decline in the number of Louisiana children in foster care from August 2018 to August 2021, the number of Louisiana children in foster care each month has returned to numbers that were normal ten years ago. Following a significant decline from Fall 2018 to Summer 2021, the number of children served in foster care each month has increased by about 500 per year since the mid-2021 low point. The most significant decline took place during 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what was going right for Louisiana’s children then?

The number of Louisiana children in foster care is increasing by 500 per year or about 10 per week.

CRITICAL:  Too Many Babies Are Dying in Louisiana

Editorial: Targeting state’s high rate of maternal deaths | Our Views | theadvocate.com

CRITICAL:  Louisiana’s “Ghost” and “Phantom” Networks Must Disappear

Managed care organizations (MCOs) are also called “Medicaid management companies.” These companies are responsible for creating healthcare and mental health provider networks to serve their members. They publish directories that list all the providers in their network. However, members, providers, and auditors have discovered that many providers listed in these directories are unavailable to serve the members.

“Ghost” and “phantom networks” describe directories maintained by managed care organizations, listing healthcare providers purportedly available for their members. However, these networks often include providers who never provided care – or no longer do so – for the plan’s members.

The reasons vary and are all bad for patients. Many of the listed “phantom” providers might not be accepting new patients, severely limit the number of Medicaid patients they see due to low payment rates, no longer participate in the insurance plan, may have moved or retired, or may have been included in a directory without their knowledge. As a result, patients can find it challenging to access care, even though it appears on paper that numerous providers are available.

The dangers of these fictitious networks are that they can lead to delays in care as patients try to find an available provider, and patients grow frustrated or lose trust in their insurance company or managed care organization. Compounding the harm to patients, there may also be additional financial costs if patients who cannot find a provider in their network seek out-of-network care at higher out-of-pocket costs.

Why does this matter for Louisiana’s children?

Our Methodist Aftercare Services staff assist children and families long after a child returns home from intensive residential care. One of their tasks is to connect families to resources in their home communities to assist the family as the child transitions back into the family, school, and community. We work with the family to create a local support system that includes medical and mental health services.

Our Methodist Aftercare Services staff find that many of the providers listed in the Healthy Louisiana MCO directories are ghosts. They may answer the phone, but they no longer accept Medicaid, limit the number of MCO members on their caseload, or don’t know why they are in the directory.

When services are unavailable for children and parents, it is easy for minor crises to become large and result in the child being readmitted to residential care or removed from the family. Louisiana’s ghost networks have got to go.

Ghost networks raise legitimate concerns about the transparency and integrity of managed care organizations. Patients deserve accurate, up-to-date provider directories. Many states have legislation that requires accuracy, but without enforcement, the legislation does not benefit citizens.

Understanding Mental Health ‘Ghost’ Networks provides links to public testimony submitted to the Senate Finance Committee in May of 2023.

“Laws were passed in California, Louisiana and Maryland requiring accurate directories, but the problems continued despite the legislation. The researcher studying these efforts concluded that the lack of progress was directly related to weak enforcement mechanisms, minimal penalties, and the lack of critical tools to improve compliance.” (Mary Giliberti, JD Chief Public Policy Officer Mental Health America Before The United States Senate Finance Committee Hearing: “Barriers to Mental Health Care: Improving Provider Directory Accuracy to Reduce the Prevalence of Ghost Networks” on May 3, 2023)

Read more at: Louisiana’s Ghost and Phantom Networks Have Got to Go


Learn about Louisiana’s Children in the News!


Great news for Louisiana kids!  On June 7, 2023, Louisiana’s Legislature Senate Bill 137, which creates the office of the Louisiana Office of the State Child Ombudsman. Governor Edwards signed the bill into law as Act 325 on June 19. This new office will open in January 2024 with people who will hear the complaints of parents and caregivers about Louisiana’s services for children. The Children’s Ombudsman will help ensure Louisiana’s children receive the help they need. Before, it was hard to make complaints about services children received (or did not receive when they should have), but now there will be an independent person who will listen and help resolve legitimate complaints.

Educational and advocacy information we created to promote the creation of an Office of Children’s Ombudsman in Louisiana is available in a new location on this website: Child Ombuds 101.


2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book is Available

NEWThe 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book can be viewed, downloaded and ordered at www.aecf.org/databook. An interactive version is also available.

NEW2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book on Louisiana’s Children Now Available. (06/01/2023)

Read more about Louisiana’s 34-Year average rank of 49th on child well-being among all states.


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