GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It's a challenged system: Child Protective Services. The aim of a rare conference in Gulfport on Wednesday was to help set a new template for success among all who work for the welfare of children.
The network of support, however, needs to be much wider.
Part of the training session looked at first like child's play, but it wasn't just a fun exercise for those on the front lines of child welfare work. It was team development.
"That's what these children that are in CPS custody need is a team of people working with them and their families to be able to bridge that gap and get these children back into their homes," said Rhea Shelton, chancery judge in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Marion and Pearl River counties.
This is the third and last conference by the Mississippi Office of Courts. For a few hours, about 400 people in child welfare work were on the same page.
Child Protective Services was just one agency represented. There were judges, prosecutors, school attendance officers, and attorneys, among others.
The theme of the conference is cooperation and communication, but those attending want to add another C word to that equation. Community.
"It's part of the solution," said Greene County Prosecutor Lee Turner. "It's one key piece, but certainly it's going to take a whole community. It's going to take the whole state. It's going to take much more dedication to allocating the proper amount of resources."
State Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam said to improve the system requires everyone's help.
"One challenge for this group is to look outside the courtroom," Beam said. "Look outside the government buildings and enable and empower your community to be a part of turning this around. The community is part of the team."
Michael Memorial Baptist Church represents that community involvement with an ongoing effort to find and train foster families.
"The workload that is creating the system to seem to so many so broken and inefficient is because most of their time is spent trying to find places to be able to place children," said the Rev. Tony Karnes.
Shelton said a big help could be a simple gesture.
"Whether it's cooking a casserole for a foster parent, whether it's being a foster parent, or whether it's buying a baby bed or a car seat. Everybody could do something to help this process," said Shelton.