ADAMS COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - New developments continue to roll in a deadly child abuse case in Natchez, where three employees with the Adams County office of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services have been placed on administrative leave.
Four-year-old girl Armani Hill died from severe abuse and her younger sister Lailah Hill, also severely beaten, is out of the intensive care unit and is responding to treatment. Armani will be laid to rest Sunday, June 16.
The incident comes as Mississippi is at risk of having a federal receiver take control of the child welfare system.
A front-line worker, the supervisor and a field operations staff member who were involved in the deadly child abuse case are on leave pending the conclusions of an ongoing internal investigation. Information regarding the first two employees being placed on leave was released late Tuesday evening by the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.
CPS says concerns were reported about the welfare of four-year-old Armani Hill, who died at a hospital and her three-year-old sister Lailah Hill, who was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center and is listed in critical condition.
The children’s mother, LaKeisha Jones, and her boyfriend James Christopher Anderson have been charged.
CPS spokesperson Lea Anne Brandon spoke with WLBT about the case.
“We’re looking at what the supervisor did, what the case worker did, what the investigator did. Where was the ball dropped? Where we should have done more. And we have yet to reach a final conclusion,” said Brandon.
New developments also released in Mississippi’s ongoing foster care lawsuit will be discussed in federal court. A monitor now says of the 113 obligations the state had agreed to comply with, including measures ranging from investigating reports of children being maltreated in foster care to timely provision of medical treatment, the state only met 37.
Brandon said, “We at CPS are under the belief, sincere belief, that the children in Mississippi are safer today in our care than they have ever been. Even though we have not checked all the boxes in this very important court agreement, we do know that the children are being cared for.”
The child advocacy group that filed the lawsuit, A Better Childhood, says the state seems to be going backward. That puts Mississippi at risk of a receiver being appointed to run the child welfare system.
Brandon added, “There’s so much improvement that’s been done. We’re just not where we need to be yet. We need more money, we need more time.”
Part of it states that when the federal lawsuit was filed in 2004, it was not uncommon for workers in many counties to have caseloads of more than 200. Today the average is around 14 cases per worker.
We asked if the death of Armani Hill could impact the judge's decision on appointing a receiver.
“The class action addresses children in foster care and these were not foster care children, so it’s really... although it illustrates the tragedies that we deal with on a daily basis it is not legally apart of the lawsuit,” explained Brandon.
Brandon tells us it may be later this summer before Judge Lee makes a decision.
Brandon also says a receiver has only been appointed once before and that was in Washington D.C. She says Mississippi would be the first state to have a receiver take over the child welfare system.