As of Thursday, just eight case workers were investigating Harrison County child abuse complaints. Two years ago, the county had nearly three times that amount.
Because of the staffing shortage, DHS regional director Zadie Rogers was asked if Harrison County children were still being protected the way they should be. And she gave a candid answer. "No," Rogers admitted. "I would have to say no, not the way they should be."
Just when it looked like Mississippi had taken a step forward to reduce social worker case loads, DHS lost three more Harrison County child abuse investigators. Each member of Zadie Rogers' staff now handles an average of 128 cases. "I do think we are doing a very good job in this county with the number of people we have," she said.
That may be true. But at this lunch meeting, child care advocates once again pointed out that eight investigators weren't enough to protect all Harrison County children. Freida Kaletsch is a PACT member. "We're frustrated and disappointed that the children still aren't getting the services and the help and the protection that they should have," she said.
For the last 19 months, the ladies with PACT -- Professional Advocating Children Together -- have begged and pleaded with state leaders to find money and hire more Harrison County social workers. In February, PACT's pressure seemed to work. The state came up with $1.1 million, specifically to recruit new social workers.
When the Harrison County staff grew to 11, PACT became less vocal. Now that it's back to eight, PACT wants its voice, and the voice of children to be heard loud and clear. "We're going to assist and continue to keep the public informed," Kaletsch said. "Because the children can't do it. So we have to do it for them."
At the legislative budget hearing, DHS executives said they spent just $86,000 of the one point one million dollars earmarked for recruiting. And they admitted that just eight of 19 understaffed counties got the social worker assistance they needed.
DHS is asking lawmakers to put an extra $14 million in next year's budget. Some of that money would be used to help the family and children's services division.