State gets reset to fix broken system

Published 12:56 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The State of Mississippi will get a reset in an agreement with child advocates over a 12-year-old lawsuit involving the state’s child welfare system.

The state has failed to comply with earlier agreements in the lawsuit that alleges that the system is so bad that it violates the civil rights of Mississippi children. In the new agreement, the state gets a year to build capacity to better handle the thousands of cases of child abuse and neglect. Each caseworker will only be allowed to carry a set number of cases. For workers that investigate abuse or neglect, that number is 14 cases.

If the state can’t make the new agreement work, plaintiffs in the lawsuit can ask U.S. District Judge Tom Lee to take over the system and appoint an outsider to run it.

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The state has made some progress. The Department of Child Protection Services is now a separate organization from the Department of Human Services. The state has also provided $34 million more to hire workers and pay them more.

But the state has a long way to go to get the system up to par. The state must complete a computer system that can track caseloads for each worker, hit numerical targets for licensed foster homes, and recruit and train new foster parents.

Previous agreements called for complete compliance with benchmarks but the new one seeks gradual improvements, The Associated Press reported.

If the state can’t meet the new targets, Lee should take over the system. Abused and neglected children can’t wait 12 more years for the state to fix its broken system. They need changes now.