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Foster care system is better, but needs more

Mississippi has done much to improve its foster care system, but it looks like those efforts are falling short.

Lawyers this week asked a federal judge to appoint an outsider to take over the state’s system because the latest attempts to fix problems have failed.

In a motion filed Thursday in federal court in Jackson, the lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Tom Lee to hold the state in contempt of the latest in a series of agreements to fix the system, The Associated Press reported.

“The state’s noncompliance has by now become as routine as a metronome: the state fails to comply with orders to which it earlier agreed; the state issues earnest pledges of compliance, if only given another opportunity; another opportunity is extended; compliance never occurs. This process is repeated endlessly,” lawyers said in the motion.

The years-long lawsuit over the state’s foster care system has resulted in several changes: lowering the number of children in state custody, increasing adoptions, creating a separate state agency to run the system, among other things. But those measures are not enough.

By the end of last year, 90 percent of caseworkers were supposed to have caseloads below targeted levels, but an outside consultant aiding the state said that only 61 percent of caseworkers did, AP reported.

“The caseload compliance requirement is a vital measure by which defendants can produce better outcomes for children, protect them from harm and provide necessary services,” wrote Marcia Lowry, the lawyer who’s been suing the state for 14 years on behalf of a girl known only as Olivia Y.

She said plaintiffs have lost confidence in current CPS head Jess Dickinson. Dickinson, a former justice, replaced David Chandler, also a former justice.

Although lawmakers separated the foster care system and created an agency for it, they are merging it back into the Department of Human Services due to funding problems. State officials say they are moving in the right direction and progress has been made.

That may be, but it appears there has not been enough done. If the state can’t, or won’t, do what’s necessary to fix the system, then the judge should appoint an outsider to take it over. The state has had plenty of chances to get it right. The vulnerable children affected by its poor management deserve better.