Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Commission on Children’s Justice names four Champions for Children

March 8, 2019

The Commission on Children’s Justice on March 7 recognized four Champions for Children.

Hancock County Court and Youth Court Judge Trent Favre of Bay St. Louis, Department of Child Protection Services Deputy Director of Permanency Marcus Davenport of Jackson, Mission First Legal Aid Office Director Carlyn Hicks of Jackson, and Rep. Mark Tullos of Raleigh were named Champions for Children.

Four Champions for Children

They were honored during a presentation to legislators at the Capitol during the Three Branch Government Convening on Parent Representation on March 7.

Justice Dawn Beam, co-chair of the Commission on Children’s Justice, said that Hancock County has seen a nearly 60 percent reduction in the number of children in Youth Court custody since Judge Favre took office in January 2018. Judge Favre said 389 children were in the custody of the Hancock County Youth Court when he took office. There are currently 166 children under Youth Court supervision.

Judge Favre said that when he took office, he began examining relationships between Child Protection Services, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and all the other entities which work with children, and he streamlined processes where cases bogged down.

With fewer cases under Youth Court supervision, he spends more time with each family and meets with them more often, especially those with children under age 3, to figure out their needs and connect them with resources.

“You have to love your people. You have to have compassion for them,” Judge Favre said. “It’s not a condemning process. There is no reason to beat them up more for the mistakes they’ve made.” He wants to put them on a better path.

Four Champions for Children

Department of Child Protection Services Commissioner Jess H. Dickinson appointed Davenport to lead the agency’s adoption program shortly after taking office in September 2017. During the 2017 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2017, adoptions were finalized for 302 children in CPS custody. Adoptions more than doubled, to 649, in the 2018 fiscal year. During the past 8 months, 353 children in CPS custody have been adopted.

Dickinson praised Davenport for his leadership in achieving permanency for children. “We are making sure these children are safe and adopted or reunited with their families in a safe environment.” Every phase of the adoption process was analyzed. “We worked really hard to speed up that process.”

Hicks has been champion for children not only in Mississippi but across the country, Justice Beam said. “Attorney Hicks has been a trail blazer in her service to parents in desperate need of representation in Youth Court and of wise counsel in navigating the system to satisfy requirements and be unified with their children. She has taken these skills and taught and mentored other attorneys in assisting parents and families.”

Hicks represented indigent parents in Rankin County Youth Court, one of the first pilot programs for parent representation, for six years. In 2018, she became director of the entire Mission First Legal Aid program. As a member of the Parent Representation Task Force, she has worked with the Task Force to develop and expand parent representation pilot programs. She is one of only two Mississippi attorneys certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children. She is a frequent speaker on child welfare programs.

Tullos served as a Covington County Youth Court referee before he was elected to the Legislature. “Representative Tullos brings a wealth of experience to the floor of the Legislature advocating for positive changes in laws affecting Mississippi’s children and their families,” Justice Beam said.

She said, “These Champions for Children represent just a fraction of the Herculean effort by so many to strengthen our Mississippi children and their families.”