Family First Initiative meeting to be held Oct. 9 in Jackson

October 3, 2018

The Family First Initiative Metro Advisory Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson to discuss a pilot program aimed at preventing child neglect and reducing the number of children who are placed in foster care.

The Family First Initiative has invited government officials, community leaders, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profits to the meeting. Discussions will cover threats facing at-risk families and the community’s strengths and weaknesses in meeting needs of the poor. A local steering committee will be formed to identify resources as well as gaps in services. The local steering committee will set priorities, develop an action plan and organize efforts to address needs of at-risk families.

“The key here is resources. That’s where the courts run into a wall in trying to really provide meaningful help,” said Hinds County Chancellor Denise Owens, one of the leaders of the Metro Advisory Council of the Family First Initiative.

“Housing is one of the major (needs), especially in the metropolitan area. We see people who aren’t able to obtain housing. Obviously if parents are homeless, children are homeless,” Judge Owens said. There are also needs for employment, mental health services, drug abuse treatment and medical services, among others.

“They are all tied together. Someone is out of work. They are on drugs or mentally ill. The family is homeless. That leads to children being put into the system,” Judge Owens said.

“Many of the needs are beyond the scope (of the courts). We can only issue an order. It is not practical if it doesn’t provide a means or mechanism for someone to get a doctor or to get mental health services, or get a home or have the means to get a job,” Judge Owens said. “We need to identify resources and bring together the community.”

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.

About 82 percent of cases seen in the state youth court system involve neglect, which is often the result of poverty, substance abuse, untreated mental health issues and domestic violence. In Mississippi, 31 percent of all children live in poverty. The Family First Initiative seeks to prevent child neglect by identifying at-risk families, identifying resources in the communities and connecting them.

The Family First Initiative has launched six pilot programs around the state, including one for the metro area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties. Programs also are underway in Bolivar, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lee and Pearl River counties.

Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant lead the statewide Family First Initiative. Other leaders of the Metro Advisory Council are Madison County Chancellor Cynthia Brewer, Rankin County Judge Thomas Broome, former United Way of the Capital Area CEO Carol Burger, Becky Russell of Russell Media Consultants and businessman George Malvaney.

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.