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: 69986

Reported Deaths: 2011
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5768121
DeSoto375331
Harrison265136
Madison248972
Jackson239145
Rankin232238
Jones194762
Forrest185857
Washington172244
Lee156342
Lauderdale143993
Neshoba130694
Lamar124115
Bolivar115636
Warren113735
Oktibbeha113639
Lowndes110240
Panola109117
Sunflower107127
Lafayette101820
Scott101720
Copiah97128
Leflore95968
Pike95137
Holmes92349
Yazoo87013
Pontotoc8579
Grenada85626
Lincoln84643
Monroe83155
Simpson82131
Leake79927
Coahoma78913
Wayne78921
Tate74630
Marshall7299
Union70017
Marion68921
Adams64226
Covington63715
Winston63516
George6038
Pearl River56740
Newton55511
Tallahatchie54711
Attala53325
Walthall51121
Chickasaw48819
Noxubee46312
Tishomingo4449
Prentiss44110
Alcorn4395
Calhoun4269
Smith41213
Claiborne40914
Hancock40915
Jasper4089
Clay40414
Itawamba39510
Tippah38814
Tunica3657
Montgomery3456
Clarke34328
Lawrence3298
Yalobusha31810
Humphreys29912
Quitman2751
Carroll26211
Greene26213
Perry2488
Webster24813
Amite2406
Jefferson Davis2406
Kemper24014
Stone2245
Wilkinson22013
Sharkey2065
Jefferson1967
Benton1541
Choctaw1384
Franklin1352
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 101496

Reported Deaths: 1821
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13463261
Mobile10671216
Montgomery6955153
Madison551035
Tuscaloosa432780
Unassigned398568
Baldwin371029
Shelby336137
Marshall319938
Lee272447
Morgan242520
Etowah219034
DeKalb185214
Calhoun182819
Elmore176739
Walker154865
Houston145013
Russell13912
Limestone137813
St. Clair137520
Dallas134725
Franklin130822
Cullman123812
Colbert122518
Lauderdale120320
Autauga118822
Escambia109417
Jackson10724
Talladega106914
Tallapoosa87679
Dale85029
Chambers84838
Chilton8279
Blount8255
Clarke82110
Coffee7796
Butler77336
Covington74621
Pike7167
Marion58726
Barbour5816
Lowndes57524
Marengo56817
Bullock49211
Hale48826
Winston45711
Bibb4535
Washington44913
Perry4464
Wilcox43610
Monroe4246
Pickens41110
Randolph40311
Conecuh39410
Sumter36618
Lawrence3563
Macon34114
Crenshaw3318
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2798
Clay2775
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25311
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
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