Analysis: Effort to aid families could be key in Mississippi

MGN Online

After a year of pilot programs, the leaders of an initiative to strengthen troubled Mississippi families say they are off to a promising start.

Posted: Jul 28, 2019 6:36 PM
Updated: Jul 29, 2019 9:51 AM

After a year of pilot programs, the leaders of an initiative to strengthen troubled Mississippi families say they are off to a promising start.

The Mississippi Families First Initiative is part of a nationwide movement to change the traditional system of child welfare, which reacts and intervenes after a child is harmed, into a system that tries to cut risks and prevent harm.

The initiative, led by state Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant, has set up programs in eight counties. Those programs are trying different approaches, with the idea that the initiative will evaluate what works before seeking to roll out the program statewide.

“A ground game for prevention is the key,” said Beam, after the program issued a report to the state Supreme Court last week. “For too many years, we’ve been reactionary. When we removed children, it oftentimes traumatizes them in a way that we have no idea.”

In Lee County, officials are holding monthly legal clinics to deal with issues including housing, adoption and child custody. Bolivar County’s group is providing help to people looking to expunge criminal records, helping them find jobs. In Pearl River County, a county resource coordinator is helping to direct services to families in need. That county is also trying to provide support and child care for parents attending school and job training. In Madison County, the group is exploring coordinating opioid addiction treatment with mental health services for caregivers and children. Several other counties are also considering services using a whole-family model.

The initiative says that of the 4,700 children who were in state custody as of May, it was neglect and not abuse that typically drove intervention. State figures show 62% of children were removed for neglect, with top reasons including parental drug abuse, inadequate housing, and a caretaker’s inability to cope.

Mississippi has another, more specific reason to want to cut the number of children in foster care — the long-running Olivia Y lawsuit. That suit, where the plaintiffs are currently asking a federal judge to declare the state in contempt and appoint an outsider to run the state’s foster care system, revolves around poor conditions faced by children in foster care.

The emphasis on strengthening families will only increase if Mississippi is to comply with a new federal law. Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act in 2018, shifting resources to encourage states to address problems before a child needs to be removed from home. The Mississippi effort dovetails with the law, although they’re not the same despite having the same name.

The law enables states to use federal money previously earmarked for foster care and adoption support to instead aid parents without separating families. Those services include in-home parenting skills, substance abuse treatment and mental health care. They’re also supposed to be evidence-based, meaning there’s some proof that they are effective.

Significantly, the law also sharply limits the amount of federal money that can be used to pay for foster care in group homes. States will only get federal money to place a child for two weeks, with some exceptions. For longer stays, a judge must periodically approve continued use of a group home. Those changes are likely to mean big changes at Mississippi’s group homes, many of which are religiously affiliated. However, while most of the law takes effect in October, states can delay the group home changes as late as Oct. 2021. Mississippi is among many states that have indicated it will delay, although federal money can’t be diverted to prevention services until then.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 29684

Reported Deaths: 1103
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds238239
DeSoto148616
Madison126734
Jones110449
Neshoba98171
Lauderdale90079
Rankin88812
Forrest85142
Harrison84210
Scott76215
Copiah59216
Jackson58416
Leake57019
Holmes54441
Wayne53513
Lee53218
Oktibbeha53226
Washington5319
Warren49618
Yazoo4936
Leflore48049
Lowndes47212
Lincoln44334
Lamar4407
Grenada4325
Pike40712
Monroe38830
Lafayette3774
Attala35823
Sunflower3467
Newton3389
Covington3345
Panola3256
Bolivar32114
Adams29318
Simpson2833
Pontotoc2736
Marion27011
Tate2709
Chickasaw26918
Claiborne25610
Jasper2566
Winston2546
Noxubee2538
Pearl River24832
Clay24710
Marshall2173
Smith21611
Clarke20524
Coahoma1916
Union1919
Walthall1804
Kemper17714
Lawrence1701
Yalobusha1677
Carroll16411
Itawamba1348
Humphreys1329
Calhoun1284
Tippah12811
Hancock12613
Webster12610
Montgomery1242
Tallahatchie1224
Jefferson Davis1094
Prentiss1023
Greene1018
Jefferson993
Tunica933
Wilkinson929
Amite892
George783
Tishomingo741
Quitman730
Choctaw724
Perry654
Alcorn631
Stone571
Franklin412
Sharkey340
Benton300
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4802152
Montgomery3947103
Mobile3904134
Tuscaloosa218842
Marshall168010
Lee130237
Madison12717
Shelby117623
Morgan10475
Walker90524
Franklin87814
Dallas8689
Elmore86414
Baldwin8289
Etowah70713
DeKalb6945
Butler62328
Chambers61227
Tallapoosa58369
Autauga56012
Russell5190
Unassigned50323
Lauderdale4736
Limestone4660
Lowndes46321
Houston4614
Cullman4354
Pike4175
Colbert3836
Coffee3702
Bullock3679
St. Clair3472
Barbour3452
Covington3437
Escambia3326
Calhoun3225
Hale30621
Marengo30011
Talladega3007
Wilcox2898
Sumter28412
Clarke2726
Dale2680
Jackson2632
Winston2463
Monroe2312
Chilton2282
Blount2261
Pickens2226
Marion21413
Randolph2019
Conecuh1977
Choctaw19512
Bibb1861
Greene1838
Macon1819
Perry1621
Henry1313
Crenshaw1253
Lawrence1050
Washington1047
Cherokee857
Geneva780
Lamar751
Fayette671
Clay622
Coosa581
Cleburne361
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 98°
Columbus
Broken Clouds
87° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 100°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 96°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 96°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather