Hancock County

DHS employee fired amid document inquiry

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BAY ST. LOUIS -- A Mississippi Department of Human Services employee was terminated following accusations that doctored paperwork was used in child custody cases, state officials have confirmed.

State Rep. David Baria addressed the matter with the Hancock County Youth Court Task Force, which formed early this year to study why Hancock County has the worst per capita foster care rate in Mississippi.

"The matter has been referred to the (Public) Integrity Division of DHS," Baria said, adding that he "wanted to bring everyone up to speed on what has clearly been a part of local news."

It remains unclear where the employee worked and in what capacity. DHS would not comment Monday.

Baria said neither he nor DHS could provide further information at the moment.

The Hancock County Sheriff's Office began looking into the matter in January and has received at least four similar complaints, prompting parallel inquiries by DHS internal affairs and the state Attorney General's Office.

In December, the county had 458 children in the custody of DHS, accounting for 10 percent of the agency's wards statewide.

Baria said the number is roughly still the same and that the state has increased the number of DHS staff members in Hancock County over the last few months.

So far, the task force has been trying to handle and sift through a sizeable public outcry, most of which criticizes DHS and youth court officials of acting too fast to take children from their parents.

"We are continuing to gather information, and we are moving towards having all of our questions answered," Baria said.

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