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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.

Cases: 291891

Reported Deaths: 6605
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19470226
Hinds18555383
Harrison16385273
Rankin12498260
Jackson12401216
Lee9635160
Madison9353193
Jones7836144
Forrest7055135
Lauderdale6735225
Lowndes5989137
Lamar579379
Lafayette5688113
Washington5124128
Bolivar4567120
Oktibbeha438091
Panola424092
Warren4091113
Pearl River4070127
Pontotoc406066
Marshall397992
Monroe3971125
Union391372
Neshoba3746166
Lincoln343799
Hancock337773
Leflore3346118
Sunflower315785
Tate299172
Pike297792
Scott291367
Alcorn289760
Itawamba288471
Yazoo282662
Tippah275265
Copiah273357
Coahoma272265
Simpson269278
Prentiss267158
Leake250870
Wayne250140
Marion249478
Covington246277
Grenada244576
Adams232374
George229545
Newton222551
Winston220174
Tishomingo210965
Jasper210343
Attala205669
Chickasaw200250
Holmes181470
Clay177348
Stone170729
Tallahatchie169039
Clarke167671
Calhoun155327
Smith151131
Yalobusha141936
Greene126333
Walthall123040
Noxubee122429
Montgomery120537
Perry120133
Lawrence118420
Carroll117123
Amite110632
Webster108629
Jefferson Davis99831
Tunica97923
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91226
Kemper89222
Quitman76614
Franklin75319
Choctaw69316
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson60827
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 488973

Reported Deaths: 9660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson703321342
Mobile35725716
Madison32088437
Tuscaloosa23913404
Montgomery22369481
Shelby21714209
Baldwin19554263
Lee14827147
Morgan13529243
Etowah13091309
Calhoun13063281
Marshall11197202
Houston10019255
Limestone9303130
Elmore9283179
Cullman8856176
St. Clair8747214
Lauderdale8541209
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7424161
Walker6466240
Jackson6450101
Autauga614384
Blount6058125
Colbert5973118
Coffee522299
Dale4606106
Russell400530
Franklin396575
Covington3918105
Chilton380096
Escambia375970
Tallapoosa3533138
Clarke342348
Dallas3385139
Chambers3382102
Pike292471
Lawrence280685
Marion277492
Winston244563
Marengo243454
Bibb243259
Geneva238168
Pickens223453
Barbour208450
Hale208064
Fayette198755
Butler194865
Henry181741
Cherokee175737
Monroe165538
Randolph161240
Washington155832
Crenshaw143052
Clay142554
Macon140344
Cleburne136139
Lamar130632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120525
Bullock116033
Conecuh106423
Perry104927
Sumter98231
Greene86732
Coosa86323
Choctaw54723
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