Task force looking at potential changes to Mississippi’s foster care and adoption systems

Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 10:44 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi is looking for new ways to improve the foster care and adoption systems. It’s an extension of the conversations that started after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.

Now, a new task force is tackling more specifics.

If you’ve ever been a foster parent or attempted to adopt, you may know about the issues that exist.

“We heard a lot from a lot of different people about how our adoption and foster care systems were working,” explained Sen. Brice Wiggins, co-chairman of the task force. “Well, the reality is they weren’t perfect. And they were far from it.”

The issue is complex but the focus is finding ways to improve outcomes for the children and families.

“Over the last eight years, we’ve decreased the number of children in foster care by over 50%,” noted Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam. “What we know is they do better when we can leave them in their homes.”

Among the considerations would be having an attorney from Child Protection Services follow the case from start to finish and offer a parent representative. That’s something former foster parents say would help.

“I cannot emphasize or overstate the importance of having a representative of CPS in the courtroom, beginning at the shelter hearing, I think we would all be amazed at how this could radically, radically change the timeline in the system,” said Alison McMinn.

It’s conversations like these that advocate and former foster kid Samantha Kalahar is glad stakeholders are tackling.

“I work every day with the youth that are leaving the system,” said Samantha Kalahar, State Director for First Place for Youth. “And so having these types of things, while they’re in the system put into place is so key to their outcomes, not just while they’re in custody, but once they leave custody.”

Other ideas may not take a law change, but they want to give consideration to other time savers. One is an idea from Arkansas to streamline adoptions.

“That’s where a family who’s previously adopted a child and is interested in adopting another one,” described Judge Joseph Kilgore, Chancery Court District 4. “They don’t have to jump through all of the hoops that you would when you’re a first-time adopting parent.”

The task force will turn over its recommendations to the legislature for consideration in the 2024 legislative session.

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