Foster care in Hancock County bears watching

A sign outside the Hancock County Youth Court courtroom in the G.M. Russell Youth Court Center in Bay St. Louis.
A sign outside the Hancock County Youth Court courtroom in the G.M. Russell Youth Court Center in Bay St. Louis. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

The Hancock County Supervisors are keeping an eye on the Youth Court and foster care system. And the people of the county should thank them for that.

For too long, the court and system have operated off the radar of a lot of people. The supervisors, though, have been on the frontlines, hearing directly from the people and families affected.

And while the system may have improved recently, everything isn’t hunky-dory.

But the supervisors have the attention of the court and Child Protective Services. Chancery Judge Sandy Steckler and Referee Elise Deano came to the board trying to reassure supervisors that the system is working.

We don’t blame the supervisors for being a bit skeptical. A little over a week ago, they heard about staff leaving the Youth Court but weren’t given an explanation why so many people — three officials and two employees — left.

Steckler, in a letter to the board delivered this week, said one administrator left for a higher paying job in Tupelo. It said that was the only resignation but that there had been “reduction of excessive personnel” at the Drug Court that could be discussed in executive session.

The supervisors took a pass on that closed session. Good for them. There’s already too much secrecy in this court system.

Steckler said the number of kids in CPS custody in Hancock County has declined from 456 to 336, but that, to us, remains a fairly staggering number. If CPS staffing has increased dramatically, from 4.5 in 2010 to about 35 now as Steckler said, we hope there is enough Youth Court staff to keep up with the load, too, but we weren’t given those figures.

We know a Youth Court clerk has left. Steckler said it has taken “heroic efforts” by Youth Court personnel to manage its staggering workload. That suggests a need for some more help there.

There are, the Sun Herald found in an investigation by Wesley Muller and John Fitzhugh, numerous problems with the foster care system.

We, like the supervisors, are glad Steckler and Deano have become more forthcoming about the court and foster care. We recognize they have made improvements. We hope they keep the people of South Mississippi in the loop as they tackle the remaining problems.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.