The problem facing the DHS office is that three years ago, 22 people were looking into abuse and neglect cases. At the moment, that number is down to eight. Three of those positions were filled with federal money the state got in May.
On Monday, Governor Musgrove visited the Gulfport office to shake hands and say thanks to the women who've been forced to do extra work to protect Mississippi children.
The governor walked through the DHS office and told overworked employees that his new budget proposal would bring more investigators into their office. When Nancy Barrett heard that, the DHS supervisor and part-time investigator seemed a bit skeptical. "I'm not trying to be ugly, we just want to see it," she told the governor. "We're fighting hard in this county to protect children."
Musgrove responded with a smile, and a word of thanks. "You need to keep doing that. And I appreciate that." he said.
According to the governor, "Our workers need some help. I'm calling on the legislature to provide that help."
Musgrove blamed the legislature for cutting the DHS budget, and eliminating 10 investigative positions from the Gulfport office. He told each office worker he would do what he could to restore those jobs. One of the workers was Sandy Wright. She said, "We would appreciate it, because we really need the help."
On Dave Elliott's "Sunday Night" program, DHS deputy director Thelma Brittain admitted that there's a staffing problem at the Gulfport office. "Right now, we think that the number that we have isn't adequate to handle Harrison County," she said.
A child care advocacy group called PACT has been complaining about the staffing shortages for most of the year. Members like Shelley Foreman realized that Harrison County didn't have enough investigators to protect neglected and abused children. "It's very difficult not to become extremely frustrated and outraged that something hasn't been done," said Foreman.
The governor was hopeful that DHS reinforcements would be on their way once the 2003 legislative session opens. When he mentioned that to Jane Ward, she smiled and said, "We need them desperately." The governor nodded and said, "I know that." Then he encouraged Ward to never stop fighting for childrens' safety issues.
Musgrove said the state must increase DHS salaries, so it can hire qualified people to investigate child abuse cases. To accomplish that, and to restore the jobs that just got eliminated, he's proposing a budget that gives DHS an additional $15 million.