Last year in Harrison County alone, there were nearly 1, 700-hundred reports of child abuse. There are only eight Department of Human Services social workers to investigate abuse and neglect. They are also responsible for supervising more than 300 children in foster care.
That got the attention of a Gulfport contractor who paid for a luncheon to bring people together to crusade for protecting Mississippi's children. They saw pictures of child abuse and neglect that social workers say they see everyday.
Social workers say they can't protect all of Harrison County's children. But despite severe funding and staff shortages, child advocates keep fighting.
"I wish we could have today showed the pictures of their faces. That will get you and what gets me when I look in their eyes and I see that they're hurting, that's what gets us moving and apparently that's what got Gordon Myrick moving," Freida Kaletsch, Court Administrator for the Harrison County Youth Court said.
Gulfport Contractor Gordon Myrick brought the lawmakers, judges, and business leaders together. He says too many people turn a blind eye to what's happening in Harrison County. Myrick says the only solution he can suggest is for people to scream for action.
"That the present situation involving the protection of children in Harrison County is deplorable and in order for us to get attention, we're gonna have to scream and maybe Jackson will listen to us. Maybe our legislators will go forward and see that it is an important issue to us. Maybe our governor will realize it is an important issue in Harrison County," says Myrick.
State lawmakers agree. They say Myrick's concerns should motivate others to get involved.
"As bad as the situation is I was encouraged by seeing the support within our community. If in fact the people who are here today would donate one hour to advocate in Jackson in support of this program we could probably turn it around," Rep. Diane Peranich of Pass Christian said.
"We're gonna hold the governor's feet to the fire. He's the one who appoints the head of this agency and we will find some money," Rep. Roger Ishee said.
"I feel the entire delegation will start working together and it will be corrected in the early part of the year," Sen. Tommy Gollott said.
The coast lawmakers say correcting the problem means making it a priority when the session opens next week.