HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - In a rare interview, a top Hancock County Department of Human Services official tells us things have started to turn around for the agency.
As you probably know, per capita, Hancock County leads the region in the number of children in DHS custody. WLOX News sat down with a DHS supervisor for her perspective on the problem.
A DHS Regional Supervisor admits the Hancock County agency contributed to the record numbers of children now in state custody. She said staffing levels, which dropped down to three full-time case workers in 2012, were a major factor.
"I do know from my own personal assessment, when the Department of Human Services got down to three and a half workers, we couldn't manage. We had way more investigations and children to take care of, and I think we lost the trust of the community. I'm hoping now that we are almost fully staffed with workers we are gradually working to build that back. Many community members say they see a major difference in DHS now," said Pam Cross, DHS Hancock County Regional Supervisor.
Right now, the Hancock County agency has 40 case workers and 10 supervisors. During the staffing shortage, case workers were imported from other parts of the state to pick up the slack.
"The three and a half workers that were here had over 100 cases that they were trying to work a piece, and per our policy, workers are only supposed to have 14. So, it was impossible for them to do the work and do it with good quality," said Cross. "Currently, now with us having so many more workers, we're able to have lower caseloads. We're not quite where everybody has 14, I have about six workers who have over 14, but workers are able to do good quality work."
Cross says although the Hancock County agency is far from being taken off of the state's critical list, significant progress has been made since October of last year.
"Our number of children in custody has been dropping every month. I think our numbers are 438, I think, and we were at 473 in the mid-summer .That's progress, too. I think things in the past five to six months have gotten dramatically better," explained Cross.
The Hancock County Youth Court Task Force has been studying the DHS problems for several months now. The next task force meeting is scheduled for Friday, April 10, at 4 p.m. at the Hancock County Library on Highway 90 in Bay St. Louis.