An agreement signed Thursday night between area school districts and the state Department of Child Protection Services on reporting and investigating suspected abuse and neglect of at-risk children should help curb child abuse.
The goal between the two parties is “to reduce and prevent” cases of abuse and neglect, according to a memorandum of understanding. Representatives from the seven school districts in Harrison and Hancock counties signed the MOU.
“This is meant to establish a working relationship between the department and the school systems,” said DCPS Commissioner David Chandler.
About 20 percent of all custody cases in the state come from Harrison and Hancock counties, Chandler said.
The terms of the agreement are split between school district and DCPS personnel.
According to the MOU, school districts will be required to provide DCPS with up-to-date lists of district personnel on a quarterly basis.
District personnel are expected to report suspected abuse and neglect of a child to DCPS staff. DCPS staff, in turn, are required to return contact with the school within 72 hours.
Assigned CPS workers also will be required to provide information and updates needed by the school regarding changes in custody, visitation restrictions and any other issue regarding the safety and well-being of students in written form.
The MOU is the culmination of negotiations between the districts and the DCPS that began in June of 2016.
Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, and Rep. Timmy Ladner, R-Poplarville, spearheaded the memorandum.
Bennett said he and Ladner took action after hearing complaints about accountability from school officials, judges and residents.
“I look at this as nothing more than common sense, really. We should already be doing this,” Bennett said.
Chandler said he hopes to expand the agreement between the schools and the department to other counties in the state.