Three child protection committees to meet Nov. 29 and 30 in Jackson

November 28, 2018

Judicially led committees working for the protection of children will meet at the Mississippi Supreme Court in Jackson on November 29 and 30.

• The Family First Initiative Steering and Advisory Committees will meet on Nov. 29, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the first floor Training Room at the Supreme Court.
• The Parent Representation Task Force will meet on Nov. 30, 9:15 to 11:45 a.m. in the first floor Training Room at the Supreme Court.
• The Commission on Children’s Justice will meet on Nov. 30, noon to 2 p.m. in the first floor Training Room at the Supreme Court.

The Nov. 29 meeting of the Family First Initiative will bring together judges from pilot programs to report on their progress in efforts to prevent removal of children from their homes by providing services to stabilize families. Pilot programs are underway in Bolivar, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lee and Pearl River counties and in the metro area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.

The Family First Initiative in organizational meetings in August and September invited government officials, community leaders, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profits to discuss problems in each pilot program county and devise solutions. Helping families struggling in poverty is seen as a way to prevent child 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 Rankin County Court Judge Thomas Broome are co-chairs of the Commission on Children’s Justice. Judge Broome is chairman of the Parent Representation Task Force. Justice Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant lead the statewide Family First Initiative.

The Nov. 30 meeting of the Parent Representation Task Force will include discussion of strategies for expanding parent representation in the state and adoption of strategic plan recommendations. Twelve counties currently provide attorneys for indigent parents who face allegations of abuse and neglect in Youth Court. Before 2012, Madison County was the only county known to provide county funded parent representation. Four counties began pilot programs in 2012 and 2013. Counties that currently offer parent representation in Youth Court are Adams, Bolivar, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Hancock, Hinds, Jackson, Lafayette, Madison, Pearl River and Rankin.

Providing legal representation to families who cannot afford to hire attorneys is seen as a way to reduce the number of children removed from their homes and placed in foster care. Parent representation provides judges with a clearer picture of what is going on in homes in which abuse or neglect have been alleged, and allows the courts to identify those children who can be safely returned to their own homes.

Justice Beam will convene the Commission on Children’s Justice at noon on Nov. 30. John Damon, chief executive officer of Canopy Children’s Solutions, is expected to discuss progress in the prevention of child neglect and removal of children to foster care. Jurist in Residence John Hudson will talk about efforts to improve Youth Courts’ compliance with Title IV-E of federal law. Title IV-E funds are available to pay a portion of foster care for eligible children. Federal law requires reasonable efforts to prevent removal before reimbursement. Failure to document those efforts means the state loses federal funds that could have paid for foster care.

Karla Tye, executive director of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi, will talk about educating professionals about a multidisciplinary team approach to child advocacy. Mary Fuller, Youth Court program director for the Administrative Office of Courts, will talk about efforts of the Court Improvement Program. Mississippi Judicial College Executive Director Randy Pierce is expected to talk about efforts to improve the work of guardians ad litem. Judge Broome and Sandra Parks, director of the Division of Children and Youth Services of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, are expected to talk about community wrap around services. Judge Hudson and Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks are expected to talk about legislative proposals. Justice Beam will give an overview of the Family First Initiative, and Judge Broome will talk about parent representation.

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. The Parent Representation Task Force and the Family First Initiative grew out of the work of the Commission on Children's Justice.