Lawyers seek outside takeover of Mississippi foster care

Lawyers asked a federal judge Thursday to appoint an outsider to take over Mississippi's foster care system, saying state government's latest attempt to fix the system's long-running problems has failed.

Posted: May 31, 2018 8:23 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Lawyers asked a federal judge Thursday to appoint an outsider to take over Mississippi's foster care system, saying state government's latest attempt to fix the system's long-running problems has 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 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.

Gov. Phil Bryant said the state will fight the move.

"We're going to vigorously defend it," Bryant said. "We believe we're in compliance.

The Department of Child Protective Services has touted improvements, including cutting the number of children in its custody by 10 percent over the past year and increasing adoptions. But the plaintiffs say the state's "blatant noncompliance" is black and white, as caseload figures for social workers again rise above targeted levels.

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. The problems were particularly severe on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In Harrison and Hancock counties, only 23 percent of social workers had caseloads that met targeted levels. The plaintiffs say the overall caseload situation has gotten worse this year, not better, falling to 52 percent in May.

"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.

Lowry writes that the plaintiffs have lost confidence in current Child Protective Services chief Jess Dickinson. He left the state Supreme Court and took over the agency in September, replacing another former justice, David Chandler.

"It is apparent that Commissioner Dickinson is simply not capable of operating the agency in such a way to achieve compliance with the court's requirements," Lowry wrote.

She cited concerns about the departures of three senior managers, saying "the state's entire management structure is collapsing."

Lawmakers separated the foster care system from the Department of Human Services, but that caused trouble accessing federal funding. Lawmakers decided this year to partially re-merge the departments and appropriated money to fill the deficit, but Dickinson said the department would impose a hiring freeze. It's unclear if that's contributing to rising caseloads.

Spokeswoman Lea Anne Brandon says the department is confident it's moving in the right direction to protect children.

"We disagree with the plaintiff's assertions and will continue working diligently each day to care for the thousands of abused and neglected children entrusted into our custody for protection," Brandon said in a statement.

But Lowry argues that it's not about intent, but actual performance. The judge has long appeared reluctant to strip control from the state, which helped push the plaintiffs into at least six separate agreements with the state. In Thursday's motion, Lowry argues that "the dire circumstances of this case warrant the appointment of a receiver."

"At the evidentiary hearing, plaintiffs expect to prove through testimony from former senior officials at MDCPS that defendants are headed on a downward trajectory, and that the many improvements made during the past two years have been abandoned by the current administration," the motion said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 14372

Reported Deaths: 693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds95924
Lauderdale71358
Madison69422
Scott63010
Neshoba58937
Jones56622
Forrest52338
DeSoto5036
Leake40012
Rankin3856
Holmes38524
Jackson30313
Copiah2904
Attala28415
Newton2564
Monroe25225
Leflore25130
Lincoln25024
Harrison2477
Lamar2315
Yazoo2274
Pearl River20631
Pike20311
Adams19015
Lowndes1899
Noxubee1736
Washington1667
Warren1597
Bolivar15411
Wayne1540
Oktibbeha15411
Jasper1524
Smith14511
Covington1431
Clarke13818
Kemper13611
Chickasaw13012
Lafayette1274
Lee1245
Carroll11511
Coahoma1144
Marion1149
Clay1084
Winston1051
Lawrence1021
Simpson950
Hancock8711
Wilkinson859
Yalobusha855
Grenada853
Itawamba847
Montgomery811
Union805
Sunflower783
Jefferson Davis772
Marshall773
Tate741
Tippah7111
Claiborne692
Panola643
Calhoun634
Webster611
Humphreys587
Amite561
Tunica533
Walthall520
Perry503
Prentiss423
Jefferson400
Choctaw342
Stone300
Pontotoc293
Tishomingo280
Franklin282
Tallahatchie261
Quitman250
George211
Benton150
Alcorn141
Greene91
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 16530

Reported Deaths: 591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2124112
Jefferson1712100
Montgomery154134
Tuscaloosa67813
Marshall6689
Lee53332
Franklin5147
Shelby48419
Tallapoosa41864
Butler39213
Chambers34924
Madison3184
Elmore3137
Walker2991
Baldwin2819
Etowah24411
Dallas2443
DeKalb2413
Morgan2311
Coffee2241
Lowndes22210
Sumter2136
Autauga2053
Houston1884
Bullock1833
Pike1790
Colbert1612
Russell1590
Marengo1556
Lauderdale1532
Calhoun1523
Hale1517
Choctaw1488
Wilcox1347
Barbour1321
Clarke1292
Randolph1257
Marion11911
St. Clair1161
Pickens1014
Talladega1003
Dale990
Chilton971
Cullman960
Greene924
Limestone870
Winston820
Covington771
Jackson752
Crenshaw722
Bibb711
Henry712
Macon712
Washington666
Blount581
Escambia493
Lawrence460
Geneva400
Conecuh351
Coosa351
Monroe352
Perry350
Cherokee342
Clay272
Lamar210
Fayette130
Cleburne131
Unassigned00
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