Editorials

Lawmakers can and should bring Mississippi foster care out of dark

Harrison County Youth Court judge Margaret Alfonso, left, court employees and Department of Human Services workers prepare for court on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 in Gulfport. Two state legislators are looking at ways to reform the state's child welfare system in the wake of a series of stories on the topic by the Sun Herald.
Harrison County Youth Court judge Margaret Alfonso, left, court employees and Department of Human Services workers prepare for court on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 in Gulfport. Two state legislators are looking at ways to reform the state's child welfare system in the wake of a series of stories on the topic by the Sun Herald. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

We were hoping the Sun Herald series Fostering Secrets, an investigation that exposed serious flaws in the Mississippi child protection system, would tug at the hearts of state officials who read it the way it had tugged at ours.

This is an emergency.

That’s why we were encouraged when state Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport and state Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach quickly stepped forward with a plan.

Tindell has worked on the problem in the Legislature. This past session, he was the leader in establishing a parental bill of rights in parental-rights hearings, which can literally tear a family apart.

That, we hope, is only a start.

Bennett and Tindell have many good ideas. They would give the public more access to the proceedings that could land a child in the foster-care system. Right now, those proceedings are clouded by secrecy.

We have seen too many instances in which evidence gathered by Child Protective Service caseworkers appears to have been compromised. We have seen the damage that does to children and families.

Having caseworkers wear body cameras would eliminate doubts about the interviews conducted and evidence gathered. Having a certified court reporter record the youth court hearings would give us the word of a neutral party that those hearings were conducted above board.

Those are just two of the ideas brought forward early on by the two lawmakers. We expect to see more.

Tindell and Bennett have obviously been thinking of not just Band-Aids but long-term solutions.

It’s clear that few knew how dire the situation is, other than lawmakers such as Bennett who were barraged with phone calls from desperate parents.

Now we all know.

We urge Bennett and Tindell to keep us in the loop every step of the way toward a better Child Protective Services.

We have seen the damage that can be wrought in secret. It’s time to let in the light.

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

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