SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Many people call the child welfare system in our state "broken." In this special WLOX Investigative Report, we focus on just two of the state's Department of Human Services' many responsibilities: adoption and foster care.
DHS has been riddled with problems. So much so, a court ordered radical reform. But most of the child advocates I've spoken to are still waiting. Marie Page of Ocean Springs said, "Oh my God, it's so broken!"
That's what Marie Page thinks of the child welfare system in Mississippi which she knows desperately needs licensed foster homes. Page also said, 'Slow, lazy, incompetent, I think management should probably be replaced."
Page says she and her husband want to be foster parents. She says they've jumped through hoops for three years to complete all required certifications, and keep calling to be approved, but still aren't a licensed foster family. Their 18-year-old daughter Naomi says it's a shame, when she feels any child would thrive in their loving home.
Naomi Page said, "I think they'd love it because not only would they get two adult figures that are willing to be there for them whenever they need them for them whatever, they would also have my little sister in the house and she is one of the sweetest things you could ever meet."
Marie Page said, "I feel like here I am trying to do something to help children who are in need, and instead I have adults putting roadblocks up in front of me."
The Hall family of Gulfport has fostered 12 children over the past few years. They have a toddler in their care right now.
Foster mother Amanda Hall said, "I do think it's broken at times."
Amanda and Steve Hall say this system doesn't give foster parents the support they need and they say it's devastating to watch children they would have adopted so often, go back to unfit homes. Steve feels the only answer is to educate parents in the system, and let children be adopted to loving homes sooner than later, if their biological parents can't care for them.
Foster father Steve Hall said, "Break the cycle of these kids just staying in the system and staying in the system and having babies in the system and we're just growing and growing and the system's just exploding and there's no end in sight."
Little Kelly Rose was in the system along with all four of her older siblings, until her foster parents Julie and Michael Garrett sued DHS and won to keep her from going back to her convicted sex offender father last year. Garrett says DHS's ultimate goal of "family re-unification" is very often dead wrong and says his family's very troubling case proves DHS still has zero accountability.
Dr. Michael Garrett said, "You call DHS to report DHS to DHS investigates DHS, then DHS finds that DHS did nothing wrong as long a that's the system of accountability in this state, then we can expect and guarantee, that there will be more horrific decisions like these being made every single day."
Garret says his case is precedent setting, but nowhere near the 2004 landmark "Olivia Y" suit against Mississippi. She's the girl who was placed in foster care and not checked for four months, when children are supposed to be checked on each week.
After being found sexually abused and malnourished, the court mandated DHS make radical policy changes. But Hope Haven's Terry Latham says new impractical policies are written by "paper pushers" who've never taken care of an abused child. He says he's offered to help write new policies, but gets brushed off with one word - privacy.
Terry Latham, Hope Haven Children's Services said, "There is a veil of secrecy around DHS and what they do and I don't think they want people to know exactly what's going on and they use that and say oh we have to protect the 'privacy' of the children but what it does in many cases, it protects the privacy of internally what's going on in that organization."
Although Terry Latham has said since this interview that he now sees some encouraging improvements within DHS, Dr. Michael Garrett is doubtful.
Dr. Michael Garrett said, "If I'm speaking honestly to you, the issues within DHS are so systemic, they would have to improve just to get back to broken."
Remember the best way to help children in need in the overburdened child welfare system in our state is to get involved. Here is a list of some of the non-profit child protection agencies in South Mississippi.
Hope Haven Children's Services, Hancock County-Director Terry Latham
(Brett & Deanna Favre are involved in this charity)
Homes of Hope for Children-Purvis, MS (Julie & Dr. Michael Garrett/Founders)
344 Harold Tucker Rd, Purvis, MS 39475 (769) 456-7021
(Duck Dynasty family supports this charity)
CASA of Harrison County "Court Appointed Special Advocates for Abused & Neglected Children"
CASA of Hancock County "Court Appointed Special Advocates for Abused & Neglected Children"
CASA of Jackson County "Court Appointed Special Advocates for Abused & Neglected Children"
(228) 762-7370 ext. #38
Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth in Jackson
Department of Human Services Mississippi