The Child Abuse Prevention Center in Gulfport, which was in danger of closing, will continue its child advocacy services. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the number of child abuse and neglect victims on the Mississippi coast has grown 33 percent during the past four years.
Those kinds of statistics are a large part of why Mississippi Children’s Home Services agreed to step in to help the south Mississippi child advocacy center when it ran into financial troubles earlier this year.
Mississippi Children's Home Services CEO John Damon says his organization had been looking for ways to more quickly link children who have experienced abuse or neglect with the services they need. Starting this month, they formed a management agreement with the Gulf Coast center to bring more clinical, operational and adminstrative support to the staff.
Damon hopes to increase the forensic interviewing and child advocacy services and restore other programs the center offered before its cut-backs.
"Our plan is to strengthen what they are doing," he says. "There is a dire need on the coast right now, and we want to see the child advocacy center do a great job of interviewing the child ... and then, as quickly as we can, connect that child with the resources that they need."
Nineteen percent of Missisippi child abuse and neglect victims were in the coastal counties last year; the same three coastal counties have only 13 percent of the state's population. University of Southern Mississippi Department of Social Work director Tim Rehner says the stress of recent events like Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill and the recession, may play a part in these numbers.
"Places that have high stress often have higher incidents of violence against family members," he says. "And we need more capacity for responding. We need to have motivation and will for responding."
Among the things that Rhener believes could help are more education about early signs of frustration, as well as increased awareness of the issue and additional resources for interventions.
These types of resources, such as parenting classes, are among the services that Mississippi Children's Home Services is hoping to bring back to the Child Abuse Prevention Center in Gulfport, Damon says. The center currently has just one forensic interviewer and one child advocate; most of the other staff was laid off this summer due to the center's financial difficulties.
"Certainly a three-dimensional approach towards how to come alongside the families, the kids, the whole entire system, is our goal," Damon says. "That's what we do, and we've had a good success and track record in bringing the necessary funding to leverage towards kids and families that are in need. So we certainly hope to bring that back."