Agreement could bring improvements for Miss. foster children

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Officials from opposing sides of a lawsuit say they’ll spend the next several months working together on a plan to improve life for children in Mississippi’s foster care system.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to an agreement between the state of Mississippi and Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group that sued the state in 2004 to push for better conditions for the estimated 3,000 to 3,500 children in foster care.

Wayne Drinkwater, a Jackson attorney who’s been working on the case for Children’s Rights, said that once a plan is in place by the end of this year, foster children should start receiving better medical care and more frequent visits from social workers. He also said the plan should decrease instances of foster children being moved from one home to another until they’re 18.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Drinkwater said state officials “deserve some credit for throwing in the towel on this.”

“The state does not deny that it’s been operating an unconstitutional (foster care) system,” Drinkwater said Tuesday. “We’re going to get past that and try to help these kids. That is the big picture here.”

Attorney General Jim Hood defended the state in the lawsuit. He says the goal was to fix problems in the foster care system and he called the agreement “a good all-around outcome.”

“Jesus taught us to take care of the widows and the orphans,” Hood said. “That’s what many of (the children) are in foster care, they’ve been abandoned by their parents or abused in some way.”

Hood says lawmakers are giving the state Department of Human Services millions of dollars to improve foster care. He also gave credit to Gov. Haley Barbour’s office for working with his staff on the agreement.

Barbour said in a written statement that when he ran for office in 2003, he called the foster care program “one of the worst managed programs in state government.”

“This lawsuit, filed two months after I took office, was an attempt to deal judicially with a multitude of problems we had begun to address administratively,” Barbour said Tuesday.

Melody McAnally of Jackson, another attorney who has worked with Children’s Rights on the lawsuit, said it’s important to note that the state is letting the plaintiffs in the lawsuit develop a plan to help improve foster care.

“We all admit that it’s going to take some time to get the new system in place,” McAnally said. “We don’t expect it to all be perfect next month.”