Family First Initiative metro area meetings set

September 19, 2018

The Family First Initiative Metro Advisory Council has scheduled three meetings to discuss 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.

The schedule of community meetings includes:

• Madison County, Sept. 25, 6 p.m., Broadmoor Baptist Church,1531 Highland Colony Parkway, Madison;
• Rankin County, Oct. 2, 5:30 p.m., Muse Center, Rankin Campus of Hinds Community College, 515 Country Place Parkway, Pearl;
• Hinds County, Oct. 9, 5:30 p.m., Mississippi College School of Law, 151 E. Griffith Street, Jackson.

A reception is scheduled for half an hour before each meeting.

The Advisory Council has invited government officials, community leaders, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profits to these meetings. Discussions will focus on identifying threats facing at-risk families and developing strategies to address those threats.

Leaders of the Metro Advisory Council are Madison County Chancellor Cynthia Brewer, Hinds County Chancellor Denise Owens, Rankin County and Youth Court Judge Thomas Broome, former United Way of the Capital Area CEO Carol Burger, and businessman George Malvaney, who coordinated the response to the 2010 BP oil spill. Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant lead the statewide Family First Initiative.

Judge Brewer said, “Chancery Court usually sees families in crisis. A parent may be absent or sickened by addiction. A child comes to the Court via a dispute between parents or grandparents’ petition to receive guardianship. Ideally, the goal of the court will always be to promote the safety of Mississippi children while stabilizing our families. And, if the circumstances demand different involvement by the court, then the Family First Initiative is better prepared to aid the court's work.”

Judge Broome said, “I am thrilled to bring together our metro area leaders, faith-based and community partners to kick off this pilot program which will strengthen our children and families. The meetings will allow us to bring the community in and work hand in hand with them to provide wrap around services for those children and families who need it the most.”

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

Judge Broome said, “The Family First Prevention Services Act now gives us the opportunity to put the needed resources in place on the front end to prevent children from entering foster care. A child can be safely kept at home because federal dollars can now be used to provide mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services by a qualified trauma-informed counselor. We can provide in-home parent skill-based programs including parent skill training, parent education, and individual and family counseling. Additionally, vocational and work force training efforts are available to provide parents and custodians an opportunity to find meaningful and gainful work.”

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. Judge Broome said that almost 80 percent of cases seen in the youth court system involve neglect which is often the result of poverty, substance abuse, untreated mental health issues and domestic violence.

“Prior to this program, we had to wait for something to occur before services could be put into place.”

The Metro area is among six Family First Initiative pilot programs. Others include Bolivar, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lee and Pearl River counties. Organizational meetings were held in those locations in August.

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.