HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A leader from the Hancock County Department of Human Services reacted to a report stemming from an investigation into why the county has more children in DHS custody than any other county in the state.
WLOX News sat down with the regional supervisor Wednesday to discuss the state's legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.
The 99 page PEER report found the number of children in DHS custody in Hancock County increased nearly 150 percent over the past five years.
The report cites a high staff turnover, and heavy workloads at DHS lead to children staying in state custody longer before being reunited with family.
The report did not quantify the number of families impacted by staffing issues. DHS only had three case workers at one point.
"I think there was a period of time because of the low staff, and we couldn't keep up with the amount of work we had to do. I think the community, and the court did lose trust in DHS. Our staff now, we have 41 workers in the field and are continuously adding more. We have six that are being hired, or in training. So, we're gradually growing and that's changing," said Hancock County DHS Regional Director Pam Cross.
DHS and Hancock County Youth Court leaders say illegal drug use is involved in 70 to 80 percent of the cases they see.
However, the PEER report found the drug problem in Hancock County is no greater than any other county around the state.
"We do much more stringent drug testing than they do in other parts of the state. For instance, we do a 12 panel drug test. The Hancock County Youth Court here uses a 12 panel test, which is designed to catch much more drugs in the system. It can certainly be argued that Hancock County is doing a better job in finding out that custodial parents are using drugs because we use a tougher test," said Task Force Chairman David Baria. "Whether that's true or not, the result of it is we have more children being removed from custody. We have a bigger problem to deal with in Hancock County as a result of doing a better job."
DHS leaders say the number of children in state custody in Hancock County is decreasing. There are 421 children currently in DHS custody. Last year at this time there were 473 in custody.
Click here to review the entire PEER report: http://www.peer.state.ms.us/594.html