The foster care system in Mississippi has been a source of shame and embarrassment for years, if not decades. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the state appears to be making a good-faith effort to improve conditions for one of the most vulnerable groups of Mississippians — children who have no family to support them.
Like many injustices, this move was not entirely a voluntary proposition for the state. In 2004, a federal judge ruled Mississippi had failed to provide an adequate and effective system for meeting the needs of foster care children in what his known as the “Olivia Y” case.
Since then, the battle has continued, with the state facing charges of non-compliance. Finally, when faced with the prospect of the state’s foster care system being taken over by federal authorities, the state seems taken measures to correct the problem.
Last January, at Gov. Phil Bryant’s request, the state appropriated an additional $38 million to the program, allowing Mississippi to hire an addition 248 case workers. Prior to that, some case workers had a case load of as many as 40 children.
Meanwhile, the need for foster care has continued to increase. This year an additional 1,000 children were added to the list of those in need of foster care and, overall, there are 1,500 children awaiting placement.
To address that problem, a Christian-based non-profit called 200 Million Flowers, is canvassing churches throughout the state, seeking to identify potential foster families in those congregations and offering them expedited training that speed up the placement process.
There is little doubt there is an urgent need for foster parents and we applaud 200 Million Flowers for its efforts.
But we also urge caution. When 200 Million Flowers says it can provide the required training over a weekend in process that often required months, we are concerned.
Being a foster parent is a serious responsibility. It requires not only financial means and good intentions, but specific, detailed training. Many of these children, perhaps most, arrive in the foster-care system with serious mental, emotional and physical issues.
Foster parents should be properly equipped to meet what are often daunting challenges.
Anyone considering becoming a foster parent should take plenty of time to think this through.
The plight of these children is heart-breaking and we understand the need to rush to their aid. But the decision to become a foster parent should not be driven by an emotional impulse.
Can the training process for foster parents be expedited? There is reason to believe the answer is yes.
But expediency is not the only factor that should be taken into consideration. In fact, moving too quickly can make a bad situation worse. A failed foster-care experience damages all parties.
The need may be urgent, but the careful deliberation and thorough training should not be compromised.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.