Rankin County celebrates Family Reunification Day with ceremony and picnic
July 2, 2018
Children jumped in a colorful bouncy house, scrambled through an inflatable obstacle course and petted a pair of miniature horses on the grounds of the Rankin County Juvenile Justice Center in Pelahatchie on Friday, June 29.
Rankin County’s first Family Reunification Day celebration included a courtroom ceremony followed by a picnic. Nine families, totaling about 25 people including children, ate hamburgers and hotdogs and mingled with Child Protection Services workers, Youth Court staff, local law enforcement officers and other local officials.
Things didn’t start out on such a cheerful note for these parents who landed in Youth Court facing allegations of child neglect.
“It’s been three years, a long and difficult journey,” one young mother told those assembled for the courtroom ceremony. “I was rebellious. I didn’t know which direction to go. I am happy they have pushed me to be the mom that I’ve become. I just needed that push.” She regained custody of her son.
Rankin County Youth Court Judge Tom Broome picked up the child and let him hold the gavel.
“It is such a great joy to be able to bring children back home and see the family bonds restored,” said Judge Broome. “We are here today to celebrate the fundamental reason why Youth Courts exist, to bring families and children together.”
Although children are placed in foster care temporarily due to allegations of abuse and neglect, the goal of Youth Court and Child Protection Services is reunification of children with parents if parents are able to show that they can provide a safe and nurturing home. Parent attorneys, Child Protection Services, the Youth Court, guardians ad litem and Region 8 Mental Health have worked with parents to make changes in their homes and lifestyles so that children may return to their families.
Rankin County has seen a 49 percent reduction in children in foster care during the past year, Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said in a recent letter to the Rankin County Board of Supervisors. The letter was presented at the July 2 Board meeting.
Judge Broome attributed part of the decrease to the advocacy of attorneys who represent the parents, “giving families a voice in the courtroom that they might not have had before.” Rankin County was among the first three counties participating in a pilot program that began in 2012 to provide indigent parents with attorneys.
Chief Justice Waller in the letter to the Board of Supervisors said, “Because of the Parent Representation Project and your matching funds with private foundations, attorneys are working hard to maintain the safety of Mississippi children while preventing removal from the home. Recent research shows that removal of children from their home causes trauma as harmful or more harmful than the environment from which the child is removed. These attorneys are able to achieve reunification faster, require reasonable service plans for the parents, or move children to permanency through adoption where reunification is not appropriate. These efforts are making a very positive impact within our state.”
“When they (parents) feel like they are a part of the process, it makes a difference in the outcomes for those families,” said Carlyn Hicks, who served as the parent representation attorney for indigent parents in Rankin County for nearly six years, working for Mission First Legal Aid. Hicks said the program takes a holistic approach, advocating for the parents in court and helping them find other services that they need.
Hicks is now director of of Mississippi College School of Law and Mission First. Corey Gerber recently became the program’s parent representation attorney for Rankin County.
Hicks and Gerber were among eight recipients of Hero Awards presented at the Reunification Celebration. Other Hero Award recipients recognized for their hard work with families were Child Protection Services Supervisors Danielle Armistad and Cynthia Moore, CPS Family Specialists Shannon Lewis and Tiffany Robinson, and Guardians ad Litem Linda Martin and Ann Moore. Mission First was also recognized as a Reunification Superhero.
The Rankin County Board of Supervisors established Family Reunification Day by a board proclamation issued on June 18. The proclamation said, in part, “WHEREAS, a child removed from their home deserves that the child protection system works diligently and promptly with the parents to address the family service plan so that reunification with their family can be achieved safely and timely to promote their well-being and permanency;
WHEREAS, all children need the care, love, security and stability of family unity, including parents, siblings, grandparents and other extended family members to provide a solid foundation for personal growth, development and maturity;
WHEREAS, reunification takes work, commitment, and investment of time and resources by parents, family members, social workers, foster parents, service providers, attorneys, the Court and the community.”