The task force appointed to study the foster care crisis in Hancock County gathered in its first official meeting Monday night. Currently, Hancock County has 458 children in DHS custody. That's more, per-capita, than any other county in the state.
The 17 member task force will meet every two weeks for the next six months to try and pin-point the problem and come up with solutions. But many of the folks who turned out for the meeting said they know exactly what the problem is.
More than 100 people packed the meeting room, many with children, grandchildren or relatives in DHS custody. Task Force members heard several emotionally charged stories.
"It's DHS. It's the entire system has melted down. And where is the melt down now? It's the parents that's doing the melt down," said one woman in the audience. "I'm a great aunt to this baby that they took and now they're wanting to take this baby and put her up for adoption. We are scared to death when her mom gets out of jail on the 17th of this month. They said if her mother does get out, they are going to put her up for adoption."
Another young lady asked a question of DHS, "When do they decide when you get to see your kids? I've been clean for 13 months and 13 days and have seen my kids twice. How is that right?"
Others said DHS's strict drug testing policy is to blame for the high number of children in state custody.
"Yes, maybe that parent, two months ago, had a weekend away from the kids and did some drugs. But by Monday morning when that child is back home and they're ready to take them to school, they're not under the influence of anything," said an attorney in the crowd that voiced her concerns.
The task force will announce a website or way to take comments from the public in the coming days. Among the duties of the task force: Figure out ways to reunite parents with their children faster than is currently being done.
"I would like to see something done. Because I was promised, if you do this class you get to see your children. I did it before they even asked. I've done over and over what they asked me to," said another woman as tears rolled from her eyes.
In addition to taking comments from the public, the task force also named some of the committees it will use to dissect the foster care crisis. No one from DHS spoke at that meeting.
The task force will hold its next meeting Friday, January 23 at the same location - the boardroom at the County Government Complex on Highway 90.