DHS task force prepares to release report - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

DHS task force prepares to release report

Task Force chairman Rep. David Baria speaks to the audience of concerned parents and grandparents. (Photo source: WLOX) Task Force chairman Rep. David Baria speaks to the audience of concerned parents and grandparents. (Photo source: WLOX)

For the last six months, a Hancock County Youth Court Task Force has been studying why the county has a record number of children in DHS custody. Hancock County currently has 444 children in state custody. That's down from a high of 573 children in DHS care.

We spoke with the chairman of the task force just days before the group begins to prepare a report with recommendations for change.

The Youth Court Task Force has heard from hundreds of parents and grandparents who told task force members about their personal stories in dealing with DHS and the Youth Court system. They found most of the complaints had a common thread.

"Families who are not familiar with the system, they are provided a service agreement and they have trouble completing the service agreement, which prolongs the time families are separated," said David Baria, Chairman of the Youth Court Task Force.

That service agreement outlines the steps a parent must take to get their children back. Part of a service agreement could include parenting classes or a substance abuse treatment program.

"Hancock County suffers from a lack of resources and that includes drug treatment resources, drug treatment facilities, but also mental health resources," explained Baria.

He said right now there are only a handful of drug treatment facilities and most are very costly. Jacob's Well Ministries, which runs a treatment program for women in Pearl River County, recently opened a center for men in North Hancock County. Baria calls that a positive step in correcting the problem.

"Most folks can't afford the resources that they need, and frankly the state needs to do a better job of providing them," said Baria.

The ratio of DHS case workers to the number of children in custody is another problem the task force has identified.

"I think everyone understands we had a problem with DHS staffing in Hancock County, which DHS has thankfully addressed and that situation has greatly improved."

He said now at the sixth month mark the task force is just about ready to start making recommendations for changes.

"We have started talking about the structure of our report. We're going to let the committees that have been very active gathering information and reporting back to the task force take the first stab at drafting a part of the report. Then we're going to work on it collaboratively."

Baria said before the final report is released, the public will be given an opportunity to add to it.

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