Family First Initiative Summit set for July 30 in Jackson

July 25, 2018

Gov. Phil Bryant, First Lady Deborah Bryant and Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam will lead a July 30 summit in Jackson to outline the Family First Initiative.

A high-ranking leader of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Clarence H. Carter, is expected to attend the summit. Carter is Director of the Office of Family Assistance and Acting Director of the Office of Community Services of the HHS Administration for Children and Families.

The summit is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Westin Hotel, 407 South Congress Street in Jackson. The Governor and First Lady will speak shortly after 10 a.m. Justice Beam will talk about the mission and vision of the Family First Initiative at 10:50 a.m. Carter is scheduled to speak at 11:50 a.m.

Media availability for interviews with some of the summit participants will begin at 8 a.m. at the Westin Hotel.

A panel discussion scheduled for 1 p.m. is expected to include Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks, Attorney General Jim Hood, Rev. Van Jones, Canopy Children’s Solutions CEO John Damon and Families First for Mississippi Director Nancy New.

The Family First Initiative of the Commission on Children’s Justice aims to prevent child abuse and neglect and prevent children from entering the foster care system. The initiative aims to address multiple needs of struggling families by directing those families to services and resources that will improve family stability and create safer home environments for children. The idea is to identify and coordinate resources, and to connect needy families with services.

Helping families struggling in poverty is the way to prevent child abuse and neglect and reduce the need for foster care, said Justice Beam, chair of the Commission on Children’s Justice. “The way that we help children is to help their families.”

Justice Beam said, “This is an incredible moment in Mississippi's history. We are bringing together resources from across party lines, economic lines, religious lines, racial lines -- all to help our families in need. This united effort will help Mississippi lead our country in implementing the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. I am so excited to see the difference we will make in the lives of these children and their families. Children don't want a new family. They want us to help fix their own.”

The federal Family First Prevention Services Act, FFPSA, which went into effect in February, redirects some federal spending to child abuse and neglect prevention in an effort to obviate the need for children to enter foster care.

In Mississippi, six pilot Family First Initiative programs are planned. They include the Metro Jackson area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, and programs in Lee, Bolivar, Lauderdale, Pearl River and Jackson counties.

Two or three local judges from each of those areas are expected to convene community leaders and stakeholders. These Community Steering Committees will identify service gaps and develop action plans to address those service gaps in their communities. These community groups are expected to include government officials, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profit organizations.

Here is the schedule of pilot program meetings:

• Jackson, Aug. 9, 3 p.m. at the Mississippi Supreme Court;
• Meridian, Aug. 21, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Riley Center;
• Poplarville, Aug. 23, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Pearl River Community College;
• Tupelo, Aug. 27, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Lee County Justice Center;
• Cleveland, Aug. 28, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Delta State University;
• Gautier, Aug. 30, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jackson County Campus.

At a statewide level, the Family First Parent Steering Committee will lead the initiative. The Steering Committee includes the Governor and the First Lady, Justice Beam, Justice David Ishee of Gulfport, Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks of Lexington, Jurist-in-Residence John Hudson of Natchez, Families First for Mississippi Director Dr. Nancy New, Canopy Children’s Solutions CEO John Damon, Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters of Clinton, attorney Andy Taggart of Madison and Isabel Blanco of Casey Family Programs.

Officials of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Department of Child Protection Services are working with the Family First Initiative. DHS’s approach goes beyond funding public assistance by working to help families become self-sufficient. Parents are directed to technical training programs at community colleges and job skills training offered by private industry so that they may work and find better paying jobs.

DHS contracts with the private non-profit Families First for Mississippi as a gateway, coordinator and provider of community-based non-government services including literacy, attainment of a GED, technical training, job searches, parenting skills, conflict resolution and anger management. The non-profit either provides the services or finds an entity which does. Families First for Mississippi, which has a name similar to that of the Initiative, has been in operation in Mississippi for 25 years and has expanded into all 82 counties during the past two years.

The Family First Initiative of the Commission on Children’s Justice grew out of efforts by the courts to improve the lives of at-risk children. The Mississippi Supreme Court formed the Commission on Children’s Justice in 2006 and tasked it to develop a statewide, comprehensive approach to improving the child welfare system; coordinate the three branches of government; and recommend changes to improve children’s safety, strengthen and support families, and promote public trust and confidence in the child welfare system.