Harrison Co. Youth Court collaboration a success

Here's some good news from Harrison County Youth Court. In 2002, there were just five Department of Human Services social workers. Now there are 41 case workers.

In 2010, there were just 36 mental health assessments. Last year, it increased to 510.

That has helped make Harrison County number one in Mississippi for reunification of families, meaning children there are away from their families for the shortest amount of time compared to other counties.

"I'm very proud of the collaborative effort of Harrison County Youth Court with community stake holders that are collaborating to improve the lives of Harrison County's children and families," said Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alphonso.

She sees families in need every day in her courtroom. Like the saying "It takes a village to raise a child," Judge Alphonso and her staff rallied the community and have created a virtual campus near their youth court building in Gulfport to help families improve and thrive.

"It's been a wonderful success," she said.

There's the CASA trailer where volunteers advocate for children in court and help their families reunite. And a GED trailer where Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College instructors offer their services for free.

"It took one phone call the MGCCC to recognize that parents with an education can get better jobs to provide for their children."

Inside is also a wellness program.

"Our wellness clinic, thanks to the professionals at the Health Department, is an enormous success."

She says healthy parents who are educated are much more likely to succeed and be able to reunite with their children. And then there's the supervised visitation trailer.

"So that families and children can have more quality and quantity of time to visit with each other."

Their newest trailer is Youth Drug Court that is proven to help with recovery and avoid jail.

And the emergency shelter where Harrison County children are temporarily housed is one of the best in the state with its own splash pad and fantasy playground. The judge says none of this would be possible without a community that cares and takes action to help its most vulnerable.

"These are serious and complicated issues affecting our children and it takes serious dedicated determined professionals in a collaborative effort to solve those problems."

She gives special thanks to those responsible like the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Travnechek at the State Health Department and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, along with many private volunteers.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.