Hancock County

Help coming for drug-using moms with kids in state custody

Hancock County leads the state in the number of children taken out of homes because of child abuse and neglect by parents with drug abuse issues.
Hancock County leads the state in the number of children taken out of homes because of child abuse and neglect by parents with drug abuse issues. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Hancock County has the state’s highest rate of children taken from their homes because of child abuse and neglect by mothers with drug-abuse issues.

Resources to change that problem are being made available through a pilot program that will be introduced Friday in Jackson.

The program, ReNewMS, will offer drug treatment, parenting classes and resources to help struggling mothers find work, safe housing and other necessities.

State Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and Deborah Bryant, wife of Gov. Phil Bryant, will kick off the project with details Friday at a meeting in Jackson. The program also aims to reduce and prevent child abuse.

The program will be offered first in Marion County, followed by Pearl River and Hancock counties, according to a news release.

Start dates have not been announced yet.

Hancock numbers improve

Hancock County had reached the highest per-capita rate of children in protective custody, as many 473 children, in 2015. The numbers raised concerns of a task force, a state legislative-review committee and a federal agency. Concerns and allegations of wrongdoing by case workers led to a Sun Herald investigative series, “Fostering Secrets.”

The number in Hancock County has dropped to 327, said Seth Shannon, chief of staff of the state Department of Child Protection Services. Of those, the case files of 214 children show signs of drug abuse by a parent, he said, though drug abuse may not be the only factor involved in a child’s removal.

That’s 66 percent of the cases in Hancock County and slightly higher than percentages for Marion and Pearl River counties.

Reunifying families

“It is important that everyone concerned with this issue works together,” Shannon said. “The emphasis is on healing families so that they can be reunited.”

Beam is a former child-support enforcer, prosecutor and chancellor of the 10th Chancery Court District.

“If we can get these mothers the help they need and get them on the road to recovery, we can reunify families more quickly,” she said. “None of us alone can meet these needs. It’s going to take all of us working together.”

ReNewMS is a partnership involving the courts, the Commission on Children’s Justice, the Child Protection Services department, state Department of Mental Health and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The program also will seek help from nonprofit groups and the faith-based community, Beam said.

Child Protective Services numbers

Top counties with children in state custody, and the numbers said to involve parental drug abuse:

  • Hancock County: 327 children; 214 with parental drug abuse
  • Marion County: 254 children; 129 with parental drug abuse
  • Pearl River County: 226 in children; 148 with parental drug abuse