Harrison Co. Youth Court officials: It's time to talk about MS confidentiality laws
According to Judge Alfonso, the Harrison County Youth Court has received more than 3,000 reports of child abuse and neglect so far in 2015. (Photo source: WLOX News)
HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -
For the second time in a week, there are shocking allegations of child abuse and neglect in South Mississippi.
Biloxi police say a little girl suffered third degree buns for allegedly being made to sit in hot water. Her mother and a second person are facing charges. Several days prior to that incident, Waveland police charged parents after their five year old son tested positive for having methamphetamine in his system.
Child advocates say most people have no idea of the scope of the child abuse problem. Harrison County Youth Court officials say it's time to start the conversation as to whether Mississippi's confidentiality does more harm than good.
"We have many more front line workers in the Department of Human Services than we used to have. and the reports are coming in,"said Judge Margaret Alfonso.
According to Judge Alfonso, the Harrison County Youth Court has received more than 3,000 reports of child abuse and neglect so far in 2015.
For nearly 30 years, Cyndi Alexander has worked as Harrison County Youth Court Administrator
"About 10 years ago we were down to about five social workers," said Alexander. "We're a little over 50 now so cases are being investigated."
Youth court officials say they believe greater public awareness about child abuse would help ease problems, but add that it's difficult because of Mississippi's confidentiality laws.
"I'm hoping that the conversation will be started at some point that we are so confidential that sometimes are we protecting more the problems in the system than the children," said Judge Alfonso. "Something many states have gone to is a much more open courtroom. And I would like that discussion to be started in Mississippi."
Alexander added, "Our community is just not aware of the number of children that are being abused and neglected in our county. So as judge said, we're looking at other states to see what they're doing to open it up a little bit to where the community is aware."
Officials say just giving people the statistics isn't enough.
"There are over 3,000 reports. Children are not numbers. So we consider this because of the confidentiality in somewhat of a sterile way. I think sometimes the system would be better if we had less confidentiality," Judge Alfonso added.
Court officials say changing Mississippi's confidentiality laws would take legislative action and that in some states, more of those decisions are left to the judge's discretion.