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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.

Cases: 147382

Reported Deaths: 3763
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto973199
Hinds9668197
Harrison6898109
Jackson6178119
Rankin5319100
Lee487695
Madison4666106
Forrest371386
Jones346788
Lauderdale3355144
Lafayette317549
Washington3122107
Lamar283449
Oktibbeha240861
Bolivar240184
Lowndes229763
Neshoba2177115
Panola215849
Marshall209650
Leflore201490
Pontotoc196128
Monroe191477
Sunflower190555
Lincoln186865
Warren172657
Tate165451
Union163925
Pike160658
Copiah159540
Yazoo152039
Scott150729
Coahoma148743
Itawamba148234
Pearl River146567
Alcorn146327
Simpson145153
Prentiss141230
Adams137949
Grenada137745
Leake131943
Holmes126561
Tippah123030
George122324
Covington119737
Winston119124
Wayne116223
Hancock115939
Marion111646
Attala109833
Tishomingo106542
Chickasaw104132
Newton103629
Tallahatchie96327
Clarke88853
Clay87127
Jasper81222
Walthall75328
Stone73114
Calhoun72913
Montgomery72125
Carroll70614
Lawrence70314
Yalobusha70027
Noxubee69717
Smith69616
Perry65426
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57616
Jefferson Davis55017
Humphreys52918
Amite51814
Benton48717
Quitman4816
Webster42114
Kemper41918
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34211
Franklin3265
Choctaw3117
Sharkey30717
Issaquena1124
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 239318

Reported Deaths: 3532
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31391491
Mobile19562361
Tuscaloosa12813154
Madison12741146
Montgomery12198235
Shelby1000577
Baldwin847398
Lee764466
Morgan634348
Calhoun6112115
Marshall607954
Etowah606565
Houston517038
DeKalb474736
Cullman428038
Limestone413744
St. Clair409055
Elmore400762
Lauderdale393653
Walker3588108
Talladega343453
Jackson307624
Colbert301941
Blount285539
Autauga268641
Franklin247833
Coffee239715
Dale230354
Dallas224531
Russell22053
Chilton219638
Covington216833
Escambia197431
Chambers173749
Tallapoosa173391
Pike157514
Clarke156319
Marion136535
Winston129923
Lawrence124836
Geneva12028
Pickens119418
Marengo119124
Barbour117010
Bibb116217
Butler114441
Randolph100921
Cherokee100824
Hale94531
Clay90223
Washington90219
Fayette87316
Henry8496
Lowndes79129
Monroe78111
Cleburne75714
Macon72321
Crenshaw70730
Bullock69119
Conecuh68314
Perry6756
Lamar6508
Wilcox63118
Sumter57122
Choctaw41913
Greene41418
Coosa3374
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