DHS Launches Pilot Program In Harrison County

One child protection advocate calls it a "glimmer of hope" in the ongoing social worker crisis.

The Department of Human Services  announced a pilot program designed to provide some much needed help for over burdened social workers in Harrison County.

The program involves creation of a new position called "child protection specialist".

DHS wants to hire six child protection specialists in Harrison County. The new position requires a college degree, but has less stringent requirements than a licensed social worker.

It's a six month pilot program that DHS leaders are counting on to boost child protection services and lessen the existing case loads.

"We believe that the more people we have here, the better job we can do with the children and the seniors," said DHS director, Thelma Brittain at a Gulfport news conference.

Flanked by child care protection workers and advocates, the state director of DHS touted the creation and planned hiring of child protection specialists.

"I think it's something that the agency should have had in place a long time ago. And it's something that we think will truly impact the level of social work that we're able to provide in the agency," said Brittain.

As the formal announcement was made in the conference room, down the hall social worker Gwen Beck kept busy with paperwork. The promise of extra help is welcome relief.

"Since we can't seem to find social workers who can, licensed social workers, who can actually do the work, since we're having a difficult time finding those, I think this is the next best thing," Beck explained.

Hiring the child protection specialists won't eliminate the need for more licensed social workers. But the DHS director says those new positions could make the social worker openings more attractive by helping reduce the heavy case loads.

"We feel that a lot of social workers won't come to the higher case counties because of the additional stress and work that they encounter. And we think this will help us in recruiting licensed social workers," said Director Brittain.

DHS would like to have the six new positions filled in the next four to six weeks. Plenty of work awaits the new hires.

Freida Kaletsch is a member of the child advocacy group called PACT, which stands for Professionals Advocating for Children Together.

"It's a glimmer of hope coming through. You can see the light coming through the door," she said.

The child care specialists won't be directly involved with investigations. Their main duties will include assisting with paperwork and computer files.

The annual salary for the new child protection specialist position is nearly twenty two thousand dollars a year, plus fringe benefits.