There are many well-intentioned, talented people with hearts for children and Mississippians working at the Department of Human Services. However, I always advise people to work with a private attorney whenever possible. The DHS workers are underpaid and overworked. Obviously, while lawyers can help with child support collection and can bring certain private court actions related to children, attorneys are not able to provide certain social services. These are the responsibility of the state of Mississippi. One such service is our system of foster care.

Foster care is the temporary placement of a child that is in the custody of the state in a family setting. Relatives are the first choice, but the DHS is desperately in need of people willing to become foster parents. You can find out how here. The goal of foster care is reunification with the biological parents, but sometimes this is impossible and adoption is the only alternative.

There are approximately 3700 children in foster care in Mississippi. Approximately 900 are waiting to be adopted. Find out more facts at the North American Counsel on Adoptable Children website.

Due to our failing foster care system, an organization called Children’s Rights from New York filed a class action lawsuit in federal court. These are some of the serious problems alleged by the plaintiff at the time of filing:

***Children were routinely placed in emergency shelters and other temporary holding facilities for months at a time because the State had nowhere else to put them.

***Caseworkers were overburdened and poorly trained, with high caseloads that prevented them from adequately supervising the children in their care or investigating reports of abuse and neglect.

***After determining that children have been abused and neglect, DFCS often refused to open a case or provide services, and instead left the children in harmful environments, or diverted the children to relatives who may have been inappropriate or unable to provide care without support from DFCS.

***Children experienced extended stays in state custody with little effort being made by DFCS to provide needed reunification services or to develop appropriate adoptive homes for them.

***Instead of placing children in family-like settings, the state routinely placed children as young as toddlers in large group facilities, often more than 50 miles away from their homes. Some of these institutions were unlicensed and therefore did not have to comply with many state or federal requirements for staffing, training, corporal punishment, or planning for children’s futures.

The class action litigation eventually resulted in a settlement and mandated sweeping reforms in our system. Unfortunately, it appears that the state of Mississippi is woefully behind in correcting the deficiencies.

What this mean to me is that we as private citizens are going to have to step up if we want to see change in our state. I am a proud Mississippian, but I am appalled that we cannot do better. We go to church on Sunday, we travel to third world countries to feed the hungry, but we are not taking care of our own children? Really?

By: Craig Robertson 

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