Editorials

Foster children deserve better care

The day after Scott and Jennifer Berry's children were taken away by Hancock County Department of Human Services they did not show up at school, despite their parents pleas that they be there.
The day after Scott and Jennifer Berry's children were taken away by Hancock County Department of Human Services they did not show up at school, despite their parents pleas that they be there. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

We hope you have read the Sun Herald’s Fostering Secrets series about problems in the Mississippi foster care program.

In the series is the story of children taken from parents because the parents, among other expectations, demanded the kids do their homework. The story of the single mom who touched off a forgery investigation against a foster-care caseworker. The photographic evidence a parent provided that appears to show someone improperly added a damning but questionable claim about a parent to a document.

And, perhaps, most shocking, the story of a toddler who contracted a sexually transmitted disease while in foster care.

It is not a flattering picture of the agency charged with protecting Mississippi’s most vulnerable citizens.

But before we go any further, let us say we know there are many dedicated and honest people at Child Protective Services. There are many loving, caring and nurturing foster parents. We know because we know those people personally.

However, we also know the overarching problem in the child protection system and that problem is secrecy.

We know a certain level of secrecy is necessary to protect vulnerable children and the people who care for them. We know there is often a good reason to terminate parental rights.

But we also know the child protection system must have the public’s trust. And the actions of some people in the system have shattered that trust. Now it is imperative that that trust is rebuilt.

And by we, we mean the Sun Herald, Youth Court, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Child Protective Services, the foster families and most of all, our state officials. We all have a role.

The newly created Department of Child Protective Services, the appointment of former state Supreme Court Justice David Chandler to lead it and the additional $34 million it was given this year is a start. Chandler said CPS has the support of Gov. Phil Bryant, who appointed him, the Legislature and the people of Mississippi.

We’re not sure about that last one. As long as the system keeps people in the dark, distrust will flourish. We need a commitment to open both CPS and Youth Court up to more scrutiny.

Chandler told the Sun Herald there is no problem with access to records in Youth Court proceedings. Judges and lawyers say otherwise and Chandler said he wasn’t opposed to more openness.

“It’s just not working anymore,” Hancock County Youth Court Judge Elise Deano said. “And it’s not working because it’s being used to beat the system over the head as opposed to protecting the kids.”

We trust lawmakers are reading and listening, too, because it appears the bad players in this saga have been aided and abetted by the system. Only the Legislature has the power to change that.

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

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