Rebecca Powers' Special Report: Are We Failing Our Children? (Part 1)

An estimated 4,000 children in our state were abused and neglected last year alone. Many of them, become part of a system that cycles them from foster homes back into their real homes and then back to foster care again.

In part one of our WLOX Special Report "Failing our Children," Rebecca Powers looks at why abuse occurs, how the state responds and what happens to the young victims.

We all hear stories on the news about abuse, but few of us understand the reality of abuse. Child Psychiatrist David Sauls certainly does.

"What happens is, with those children, they don't have the nurturing and the safety that they need."

Children in need are protected by Mississippi's Department of Human Services. DHS director, Don Taylor says everyone agrees the agency needs more money for more social workers to protect children.

"If you look at the total cases and the total number of social workers, average case load right now is 49. That's not really too bad, although in some counties it's over 100, which is unacceptable."

Right now there are 3,190 kids in foster care in our state.

"In many instances, the best hope for the scenario is for the parents to become effective parents and know how to deal with these children and re-unite that family."

And that's not just Taylor's hope or dream, it's a government mandate his department must follow to keep federal funding.

Dr. Sauls says, "That's called family reunification, and we know so much more about this than we did. It fails in over 87% of the time."

That means children in the system who are sent home almost always end up back in the system. Those accused of abuse get taxpayer funded parenting and anger management classes. Tax money also pays their court fees when they try to get their kids back.

"You can teach them parenting and all these other classes that they try to do, at great, great expense, but it doesn't work and we've seen that," Sauls says.

Dr. Sauls points to our prison system for proof. A staggering 94% of all inmates are the product of some sort of abuse or neglect.

"There are two basic personality disorders that you see often in prisons. One is a border line personality disorder and another one is anti-social personality disorder. Each of those two are children that were neglected early on, before the age of 4-years-old."

DHS's director is used to tough battles. He's a retired Army Colonel. When he speaks to social workers across the state, he tells them that to find solutions, we have to understand where many of the problems began.

"We told single women with children, look, we're gonna have a contract with you. We're going to give you a check every month as long as you meet two conditions: you must not work and you must not marry someone who works. So we made men superfluous."

Taylor says experts know abuse and neglect span all socio-economic and racial lines. But the one thing most abuse cases have in common? Broken families.

DHS studies have found that 60% of youth suicides in our state come from broken homes. As do 63% of youth rapists, 75% of the murderers, 85% of the kids with emotional and mental problems and 90% of the runaways.

"Every time we delay, the clock is ticking. More children are lost and they'll stay in the system, instead of going to a nice home. They'll stay in the criminal justice system or the mental health system," Sauls says.

"And it's costing the state a fortune, I assure you," Taylor says.