Our state spent more than $770 million last year on child protection and family re-unification efforts. But statistics show that putting a child back in a troubled home has an 87% failure rate.
Wilda Switzer of Gulfport has fostered 44 children who were in the system. She's also gone to court to fight for the children's rights to be adopted and helps transition them into stable homes.
She's an outspoken advocate of the state's foster-adopt program that's proven to be highly successful, but says more people need to know about it and get involved.
"Wilda is an angel from god to all the children that have entered her life," Carrie McGhee said.
McGee gets choked up just talking about Wilda Switzer and the 44 children she's fostered. After three years and 75,000 dollars in unsuccessful fertility treatments, Wilda helped Carrie's dreams of motherhood come true.
"She actually is the one that told us about the foster adopt program and got us started and has done that for so many children, mother, grandmother figure, best friend, you name it and it gets emotional sometimes."
McGhee also gets emotional when she talks about her daughter Ashley. The beaming pre-schooler has mommy and daddy wrapped around her little finger. But 4-year-old Ashley McGhee had a very rough start in life. Wilda helped her through it.
"The concern was that she was retarded."
Doctor David Sauls was one of the first to evaluate the infant when she was placed in foster care.
"It was a lack of stimuli. She was severely neglected. She was so hungry that instead of sucking a pacifier, she'd stick her whole hand in her mouth. And when her hand was not there, her whole mouth would be agape," Sauls said.
So Wilda took in the three-month-old who doctors thought was already far behind, maybe even lost. She was determined to save her.
"I spent full time sitting in my chair with her in front of me talking and playing and, in fact, I think she's probably gifted."
Ashley's mom Carrie would probably agree with that, but she also agrees with Wilda that all children should have more rights than their abusers.
"Sometimes these parents have more rights than the child does and that's what really bothers me."
McGhee also says Wilda sees what needs to be done to save helpless children like Ashley once was.
Wilda says often times, that means fighting for abused children to have the right to be adopted.
"If you take that baby and you give it to somebody that's paid $75,000, $100,000 on invitro and can not get pregnant, can not have a baby, that becomes their pride and joy!"
So Wilda is working to change the law to become more "child centered". That means she wants faster termination of parental rights for repeat abusers, although some might consider that controversial.
"I'm sorry parents, you know, if you hadn't abused them or you hadn't neglected them, you could keep them. But the way I feel about it, take them out of that home, let them go on with their lives."
Now she says she'll do whatever it takes to spread the word and get children in need and families with stability, together.
"I would love to have wonderful foster, adopt homes. I would like to make speeches all over this coast, and all the people going out of the United States to adopt babies, have them on a list."
Here's how you can get on a list and help. In Hancock County call 467-4100. In Jackson County, the number is 769-3447 or in Harrison County call 897-5790.
And here's some positive news. About six weeks ago the head of DHS, Don Taylor, streamlined the foster-adopt program to make it more efficient and easier for families who are willing to open their hearts and homes to a child.
The certification classes and background checks are free.