Family First Initiative to meet Aug. 30 in Gautier

August 27, 2018

The Family First Initiative Advisory Council for Jackson County will hold its first meeting Aug. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jackson County campus in Gautier. The meeting will be held in the cafeteria.

Jackson County has been selected to participate in the Family First Initiative, a pilot program aimed at preventing child neglect and reducing the number of children who are removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

County and Youth Court Judge Sharon Sigalas, Circuit Judge Robert Krebs and Supreme Court Justice David M. Ishee will lead the Community Advisory Council for the Family First Initiative. The Advisory Council will bring together government officials, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profits to work together.

Judge Sigalas said, “As Youth Court Judge I am excited about the opportunities this program will provide for our families along the Gulf Coast. Our Coast is rich with resources and volunteers always willing to help those in need. The missing piece has been the ability to connect resources with those who need them before they fall too far into despair. This program will allow immediate needs to be met by allowing referrals at the time of need. The Gulf Coast welcomes this great opportunity and thank those who made it possible.”

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.

Last year, 13,764 children were reported to Mississippi Child Protection Services as victims of maltreatment. More than 5,000 children are in foster care. Neglect is responsible for 82 percent of the foster care placements.

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. Helping families struggling in poverty is seen as a way to prevent child abuse and neglect and reduce the need for foster care. 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.

Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant lead the statewide Family First Initiative. Justice Beam said, “The state and federal government both acknowledge that in order to promote a safe and healthy life for our children, we must help their families. Each of our courts touch the family and have a unique opportunity to encourage those in need to get community assistance.”

The Department of Human Services 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 expanded into all 82 counties during the past two years.

Jackson County is among six Family First Initiative pilot programs. Others include the Metro Jackson area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, and programs in Bolivar, Lauderdale, Lee and Pearl River counties.

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.