HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The foster care crisis in Hancock County continues to mount. With 458 children now in DHS custody, the county now has the worst per-capita foster care rate in the entire state. A task force has been formed to take an in-depth look at the problem and to come up with viable solutions to reduce the number of children placed in DHS custody.
"I think this is probably the most critical issue for Hancock County right now," said State Representative David Baria. "We need to grab this bull by the horns and do something right away or we will be sorry for the next generation."
Baria will chair a 15 member task force that will dissect the mechanics of DHS, youth court, and the foster care program. The task force is made up of people from those organizations, plus law enforcers, educators and residents. The task force will meet at least once a month with one goal.
"We want to have fewer children coming in contact with the system and we want to reunite families more quickly who have children in the system. We're going to listen to the ideas everyone wants to bring forth. And we're going to try to get our arms around the problem and identify some solutions to the problems," explained Baria.
County leaders say the crisis began to mushroom after Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, there were only about 100 children in DHS custody. Today, that number has quadrupled.
"There are more children in foster care in Hancock County than foster children in the city of Atlanta. The largest percentage of our cases involve parents who are on drugs," said Cynthia Chauvin, Executive Director CASA of Hancock County.
Chauvin said the task force will study whether there are enough substance abuse treatment facilities in the area.
Baria said, "We're going to hear from folks who have complaints about the system, about drug testing, anything. We're going to look at everything, whether we're taking too many children into the system. Whether we need to devise a system to improve parenting skills . Whether we need to change our system and implement a county court system with a full time judge."
Baria said the task force will report its findings and recommendations for change to the Board of Supervisors in about six months. The task force will hold its first meeting January 5th at 5pm at the Hancock County Government Annex building on Highway 90.