Three swings rocked back in forth in the brisk Monday wind. A fourth swing looked almost limp. It reminded a child welfare advocacy group of abusive situations that turn some children's lives upside down.
Beth Casey is with that group. "I would say fear is probably what kids go through on a day-to-day basis," she said.
One of her colleagues is Freida Kaletsch. She used the swingset analogy as she described the dangerous climate some children live in because DHS lacks enough investigators. "Look at that swingset," she said, "Unfortunately when we look at it on a day-to-day basis, we usually see two of those swings which aren't working."
Kaletsch and Casey are with Professionals Advocating For Children Together -- or PACT. Their group has lobbied lawmakers for nearly two years, trying to replenish a depleted DHS investigation staff. On two occasions, PACT got Gov. Musgrove to find money to help DHS. But neither instance resolved the staffing dilemma.
Now PACT must lobby Governor-Elect Haley Barbour. On November 5, it sent him a congratulatory letter, and 500 petition signatures. The mail urged the Barbour administration to make hiring DHS investigators a top priority.
Here's what the governor-elect said on Monday about the situation. "This is an agency, a department, that is crying out for leadership and management," he said. "And that is the most important thing that needs to be done to serve the constituents that DHS is supposed to serve."
According to PACT, the shortage of investigators casts a long, dangerous shadow over child safety in Harrison County. So the group won't stop pushing for new investigators until children can play on swings without fear.
Right now, the Harrison County DHS office has 13 people working on child abuse and neglect cases. But just seven of those people actually go out and investigate problems. The other six are child protective specialists -- people who were recently hired to assist in the office.