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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 Legislators Focusing on East Baton Rouge Family Court

New: 07/02/2024  Lawmakers seek probe of EBR Family Court by the justices of the Louisiana State Supreme Court, asking the higher court to study the East Baton Rouge (EBR) family court’s policies and decisions. State Senator Cleo Fields and State Rep. Kathy Edmonston have also asked the Louisiana State Supreme Court to give recommendations on how judges can better serve children and families. Their request is specific to East Baton Rouge, but the concerns they raise about family courts throughout Louisiana are likely to stir statewide attention.


Minimal Monitoring of Louisiana Special Education

05/15/2024  Louisiana Legislative Auditor finds Louisiana Department of Education is mostly failing to give proper oversight of Louisiana’s students with disabilities who receive special education services.

Read the full report at Risk-based Monitoring of Special Education Services, Louisiana Department of Education, Performance Audit Services, Issued May 15, 2024.

The Summary Report report outlines findings and explains that Louisiana Department of Education is slipping on a large number of children. “As of October 2022, 89,681 (13.1%) of 685,606 kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K-12) public-school students in Louisiana had a disability and were receiving special education services.”

News: 05/24/2024  Minimal monitoring for special education programs highlighted in state audit, by Allison Allsop, Louisiana Illuminator

Thousands of Louisiana students with disabilities have been in special education programs that have operated with minimal oversight for more than seven years, a new state audit reveals.


Louisiana To Detain Children in Converted Shipping Container Cells

Update: 05/16/2024  Read Louisiana Lacks Standards to Protect Children Held in Converted Shipping Containers: an Advocacy Paper on Behalf of Louisiana’s Children, released by Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services.

Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services is against the use of converted shipping containers for the detention and incarceration of children. If Louisiana permits their use, the state must promulgate Minimum Licensing Standards to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

That Louisiana would allow the unregulated use of converted shipping containers for detention, secure care, or prison cells for children seems surreal. Now, the safety and well-being of Louisiana’s children require that Louisiana promulgate Minimum Licensing Standards controlling the use of shipping containers converted into prison cells for children.

However, faced with too few beds and subpar facilities, authorities over children often do what they deem necessary in the name of expediency. Expedient authorities may harm children who are held in shipping containers converted, installed, used, and maintained without proper regulatory standards. Louisiana requires Minimum Licensing Standards that address the use of converted shipping containers for the detention and incarceration of Louisiana’s children.

Update: 05/03/2024  To prevent harm to children by the unregulated use of converted shipping containers, we submitted a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services, the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice, the Chairs of the Senate and House Health and Welfare Committees, and the Louisiana Office of Child Ombudsman asking the Department of Children and Family Services develop and promulgate Minimum Licensing Standards to regulate the use of converted shipping containers for juvenile detention centers, jails, prisons, and all other locations where children may be held. If these required Minimum Licensing Standards have not been promulgated before July 1, 2024, when the Office of Juvenile Justice becomes responsible for related licensing standards, we asked the Office of Juvenile Justice to complete the task with all haste.

Update: 04/23/2024  Minimum Licensing Standards are an essential element of Child Well-being Infrastructure. Without the protections that Minimum Licensing Standards offer children, providers and facilities may do willy-nilly what they wish, placing children at risk of physical and emotional injury. Louisiana has no Minimum Licensing Standards addressing the conversion of shipping containers into detention rooms.

The American Correctional Association has no accreditation standards that address the use of converted shipping containers for the detention or incarceration of juveniles. If the State of Louisiana will permit the detention and incarceration of children to take place in converted shipping containers, then Louisiana must first promulgate Minimum Licensing Standards to mitigate risks for the youth who will be detained in the converted containers by stipulating basic requirements to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children in judicial care.

The primary appeal of converted container prisons is that they are relatively inexpensive compared to brick-and-mortar construction. Because Louisiana has too few juvenile justice beds, container prisons have the added appeal of being a quick solution to needed bed space. However, allowing unfettered use of containers for juveniles will multiply problems for children in custody and the correctional and detention centers responsible for their well-being.

Minimum Licensing Standards for converted shipping container prisons for youth matter because they require detention centers and prisons to take care of the basics. Some of the questions that Minimum Licensing Standards answer include:

  • Who certified the design?
  • Will the individual cells be large enough?
  • Will there be sufficient encumbered and unencumbered floor space?
  • Is the ceiling high enough for safety? (Current licensing standards require 10 feet between the floor and ceiling in sleeping areas.)
  • Will there be six individual cells with independent doors for each or six beds in one large room?
  • What Louisiana standards for the care of children regulate the use of converted shipping containers?
  • If the containers are recycled, who verifies and certifies that any toxic substances spilled in the containers during their use in shipping have been safely cleaned?
  • If cutting torches are used in the remodeling, who will verify that all sharp edges have been removed?
  • Will they be properly insulated against heat and cold?
  • To prevent suicide by hanging or strangulation, will there be no ligature points?
  • How will the cells control humidity and the resulting rust and corrosion?
  • Will the converted containers be “wet” or “dry” (with or without toilets)?
  • If wired for lights and electrical power, how will the risk of electrical shock be eliminated in a metal container?
  • Will the metal containers be properly grounded and protected against lightning strikes?
  • Will the containers’ ventilation, heating, and cooling be correct? (Even eight years after opening the container prison at Rimutaka, prison officials in New Zealand struggled to solve the problems of temperature – and New Zealand has a very mild climate compared to Louisiana’s summer heat.)
  • What lessons have juvenile justice officials gleaned from the container prison installations of Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay, the Rimutaka Prison Container Project in New Zealand, or the container prison at Canning Vale in Western Australia?

Update: 04/15/2024  Community rumors about Jackson Parish Jail’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 Standards to Maintain

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 stabilized and improved.

In 2023, the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice received the Golden Eagle award from the American Correctional Association in recognition of OJJ accrediting every component within their area of responsibility. According to the ACA, “the Golden Eagle award represents the highest commitment to excellence in correctional operations and the dedication … to enhancing public safety and the well-being of incarcerated individuals.”

Today, OJJ, its facilities, and contract providers are in a good position to focus on continued quality. Minimum Licensing Standards related to converted shipping containers are necessary to maintain the current quality.

On September 15, 2023, the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) announced the transfer of all youth out of the West Feliciana Center for Youth, which was located on the grounds of Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

The youth were transferred from the repurposed death row at Angola to Jackson Parish Jail, which had opened a new juvenile justice facility in July 2023. OJJ reported the youth from Angola would be kept in Jackson Parish until the work on Swanson, a secure care facility in Monroe, is completed.

OJJ stated their officials would work with Jackson Parish officials to ensure that OJJ youth housed in Jackson Parish continued “to receive rehabilitative services and care that follows state and federal laws and regulations.”

The fact that Jackson Parish Jail intends to house youth in converted containers indicates that the new juvenile justice facility is full or will be.


Summer EBT is Alive and Child Advocacy is Effective.

For months, Louisiana has refused to participate in the USDA’s Summer EBT program which would provide funding for hungry children. Steady advocacy has kept the matter alive. Today, we learn that Governor Landry’s administration has reconsidered the earlier decision. Louisiana WILL participate in the Summer EBT program. Read the history of news and advocacy work to convince Louisiana to draw down these federal dollars for hungry children.

05/01/2024Louisiana opts in to federal summer feeding program for children, by Johnette Magner, Louisiana Legislative Session | ktbs.com


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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