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: 93087

Reported Deaths: 2809
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6956155
DeSoto539355
Harrison372772
Jackson337867
Madison320086
Rankin318875
Lee258567
Jones239978
Forrest238270
Washington217471
Lafayette207239
Lauderdale1994124
Bolivar179065
Oktibbeha174750
Lamar162134
Neshoba1534103
Panola144027
Sunflower141144
Lowndes139857
Warren138050
Leflore136280
Pontotoc122516
Pike120948
Monroe118365
Scott116125
Copiah115933
Coahoma112327
Holmes109158
Marshall107515
Lincoln106253
Grenada105335
Yazoo103629
Simpson101243
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91736
Wayne87421
Pearl River86250
Marion84133
Prentiss80817
Covington80622
Alcorn76811
Newton75623
Itawamba75221
Tallahatchie74918
George74413
Winston72319
Tishomingo65737
Chickasaw65224
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57117
Hancock56121
Jasper54915
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52114
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45420
Claiborne45116
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41614
Perry40617
Humphreys37315
Quitman3735
Stone35011
Greene34317
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Amite31210
Carroll31212
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2399
Benton2181
Franklin1893
Choctaw1785
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18911337
Mobile13039289
Montgomery8628173
Madison750775
Tuscaloosa7180114
Lee570559
Shelby564550
Baldwin504749
Marshall382143
Etowah333447
Calhoun332039
Morgan318126
Houston269922
Elmore251947
DeKalb234619
St. Clair221335
Walker220780
Talladega205026
Limestone197319
Cullman183017
Franklin174128
Dallas173626
Russell17112
Autauga167324
Lauderdale164133
Colbert159326
Escambia155725
Blount154214
Jackson149411
Chilton147127
Dale132743
Covington130227
Coffee12708
Pike11519
Tallapoosa113183
Chambers112342
Clarke104917
Marion93728
Butler90838
Barbour8307
Marengo69919
Winston69912
Lowndes64527
Pickens63114
Bibb62810
Hale61228
Randolph60712
Bullock58514
Lawrence58220
Monroe5758
Geneva5634
Cherokee55516
Washington54413
Perry5376
Clay5367
Wilcox53011
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52231
Macon47620
Henry4674
Fayette4189
Sumter41819
Lamar3452
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3206
Greene30015
Coosa1613
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