HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Parents in Hancock County who are working to get their children out of DHS custody now have access to legal representation in court. An attorney has been hired to help parents reunite with their children faster. The goal is to reduce the record numbers of children now in state custody.
She's the woman charged with helping parents who have children in DHS custody get their kids back in a more timely manner. Parent representative Jennifer Harris will act as legal counsel for selected parents during youth court hearings.
"There are a lot of parents that need the guidance not just through DHS and CASA, but someone to give them the legal advice they need. A lot of people in Hancock County cannot afford their own legal representation, so this assists them in knowing what they need to know in getting their children back quicker," said Harris.
Monday morning, Harris began working on her very first case for a parent. Her legal services are free to parents who qualify for the help. She has been an attorney with a private practice for 17 years.
Right now, her office for her new job is temporarily located inside of the Youth Court building, but her permanent office will be at the Hancock County Public Safety Complex.
"I don't work for DHS. I don't work for Judge Deano. I'm your representative. You are my client. I have an ethical obligation to work with you and help you through this process," said Harris.
With more than 430 children now in state custody in Hancock County and only one parent advocate, Harris knows she has her work cut out for her.
"As parents, when we have our children taken away from us, there is anger. There is depression and frustration, and there is not always that perception of a helping hand, and I hope to change that perception a little bit," explained Harris.
Harris' new job is a full-time position, but while she's in the process of closing her private law practice, she will work in Hancock County three days a week.