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Do what is necessary to protect children

Once again, the state department tasked with protecting Mississippi’s children needs more money.

The head of Child Protection Services said his agency needs another $26 million to comply with a consent decree in the ongoing federal Olivia Y lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 against the state, alleging that its foster care agency was failing to adequately protect children. The state has fought to keep control of its child welfare agency since.

Olivia was a 4-year-old child who arrived at an emergency shelter weighing less than 20 pounds and suffering from possible sexual abuse. She had been to five foster homes and youth shelters in the three months prior.

Commissioner of Child Protection Services Jess Dickinson has requested an increase in his agency’s budget so that enough caseworkers can be hired to adequately monitor children in the system.

“It’s totally funding,” Dickinson said. “It’s totally the ability to hire enough caseworkers (that keeps us from complying with the lawsuit). It’s scary.”

Without more funding for more caseworkers, the agency will continue to struggle to fulfill its most basic responsibility — protecting children.

“(If I don’t) have enough caseworkers the result of that is I may have a child out there who’s being abused or neglected, I don’t have somebody to send out there quick enough to bring that child out of danger. So that is a real serious problem for us,” Dickinson said, according to Mississippi Today.

In 2018, 40 percent of caseworkers had caseloads that were too high. That’s a problem that is difficult to fully understand unless you know the ins and outs of the agency.

I have been a caseworker (in Texas, not Mississippi) and I have seen first-hand what happens when caseworkers have more on their plate than they can handle. Caseworkers burn out. Children are left unprotected or at best they receive a fraction of the time they need from a caseworker.

The agency is clearly in trouble and has been for years. Aside from caseload problems, Dickinson says the agency is relying on an antiquated computer database to keep track of children.

“If it breaks down, we don’t know where our children are, except in the minds and memories of our caseworkers,” Dickinson said.

Mississippi must do better to protect abused or neglected children. If it can’t, then the court should order an outside group to take it over. The state has the money to fix the problem — just look at how much we give away in tax breaks to corporations — but it seems to lack the will to do what is necessary.

The agency is asking for about 2 percent of the state’s overall budget. Surely, keeping abused or neglected children safe is worth that much.

Contact Publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com