Commission on Children’s Justice public hearing is Sept. 23 in Oxford

September 19, 2011

Blues singer Janiva Magness will be among the speakers at a public hearing of the Mississippi Commission on Children’s Justice on Sept. 23 on the University of Mississippi campus. The hearing will be held in the E. F. Yerby Conference Center. The program is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and conclude by 12:30 p.m.

Scheduled speakers are expected to talk about foster care, early intervention for infants and toddlers in troubled families, and efforts to keep youth in school and help them find jobs. The Commission will listen to discussions regarding institutional and various community- based options available to Youth Courts for children with emotional disturbances. The hearing will gather information about foster care placements by Youth Courts and the timeliness and effectiveness of Youth Court placements.

The public is invited.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. appointed the Commission to study the administration of justice in Youth Court and provide suggested improvements. This Commission is holding public hearings to gather information needed to perform its mission to review the effective administration of justice in Mississippi Youth Courts, specifically focusing on the protection of children under the jurisdiction of Youth Courts.

The Commission held its first public hearing in Jackson on April 27. The earlier hearing focused on the structure of Youth Courts, the distribution of judicial assets, and training of court personnel.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Randy G. Pierce of Leakesville, co-chair of the Commission, said, “The Commission is gathering information in order to make recommendations to improve our juvenile justice system and to protect the welfare of abused and neglected children. We will ultimately hold hearings in north, central and south Mississippi in order to give people from all parts of the state the opportunity to attend.”

Justice Pierce and Court of Appeals Judge Virginia C. Carlton of Columbia will speak at the opening of the conference at 9 a.m. Judge Carlton leads a subcommittee devoted to education issues.

Virginia Pryor, director of strategic consulting for Casey Family Programs in Seattle, will speak at 9:30 a.m. Casey Family Programs is the nation’s largest private foundation focused entirely on foster care and improving the child welfare system.

Magness will take the microphone at 10 a.m. to talk about her life. She bounced among foster homes and gave up a baby for adoption when she was 16. Her life was turned around by a woman who provided temporary shelter to runaways, and who later became a certified foster parent.

Magness, a successful entertainer, has used the spotlight to raise awareness and advocate for foster care. She is a spokesperson for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month. She is an ambassador of Foster Care Alumni of America, a national non-profit founded and led by people who have been in the foster care system. Its mission is to connect those who have been in foster care, and to transform foster care policy and practice.

Forrest County Youth Court Judge Michael W. McPhail of Hattiesburg will speak at 10:45 a.m. Judge McPhail will talk about the Forrest County Model Court and the Zero to Three Program. The National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges Permanency Planning for Children Department works with selected Model Courts to establish best practices and system reforms. The Zero to Three Program focuses on the needs of infants and toddlers from birth to age 3 who enter the court as a result of abuse or neglect and who are placed in or potentially headed for foster care. Zero to Three works on prevention as well as intervention by providing services to parents and children. The program aims to reduce the recurrence of abuse and neglect, create stability for children and improve outcomes for those who come under the supervision of the Youth Court.

At 11:05 a.m., Medicaid Division Director Bonlitha Windham will talk about the educational component of Mississippi Youth Programs Around the Clock. MYPAC is a home and community-based program which provides services for youth with serious emotional disturbance.

At 11:25 a.m., Jobs for Mississippi Graduates Executive Director Dr. Joe Haynes will talk about the program which works with at-risk students to remove economic, social and academic barriers so that they can graduate from high school, continue their education and pursue careers.

The program will conclude with brief presentations from representatives of Mississippi Children’s Home Services, Youth Villages, and Millcreek of Magee.

The Mississippi Supreme Court created the Commission on Children’s Justice in April 2006. The Supreme Court reestablished the Commission in June 2010, directing that it develop a statewide comprehensive approach to improving the administration of justice in Youth Courts in the area of child protection; coordinate the three branches of government in assessing the impact of government actions on children who are abused or neglected; and recommend changes to improve children’s safety, strengthen and support families, and promote public trust and confidence.