Governor Haley Barbour is helping Mississippi take a big step in solving the plight of neglected and abused children.That's because the governor signed House Bill 816 into law Wednesday.
The new law recognizes the position of child protection specialist, a position that will immediately reduce the case load of social workers, and possibly bring in more people to give help to the children who need it most.
"This allows qualified people, educated people to be trained to get certified to be child protection specialists so that children here can receive the attention and the help that they deserve," said Governor Haley Barbour.
Child protection specialists would provide support and assistance to social workers.
Governor Barbour signed what members of Professionals Advocating For Children Together, or PACT, say is a solution to a chronic problem - finding "qualified" individuals to work in child protective services.
And members say when it comes to our children, quality rules over quantity.
"We have had a pilot program in Harrison County with six child protective specialist workers. At the time that these workers were hired, we had eighty qualified applicants. So in other words just selecting the first person that applies for the job, we're able to scrutinize and screen the best applicants out of eighty. And I think that you will see many, many, many more applicants now that this position has been protected by law," said PACT member Judge Margaret Alfonso.
The position of "child protection specialist" requires a college degree, but has less stringent requirements than a licensed social worker.
Specialists would not be directly involved with investigations. Their main duties would include assisting with paperwork and computer files.
This new position does not eliminate the need for licensed social workers.
But PACT members believe it makes social worker openings more attractive because a specialist could help to reduce the heavy case loads, thereby giving more Mississippi children in need a chance at a better life.
Mississippi is the last state to sign this type of bill into law.