Mississippi is earmarked to be the nation's model for a new child welfare law focused on keeping families together. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
Sherniqua Thedford of Meridian, is a 35-year old single mother of four. She lost everything when she became ill during her last pregnancy. Thedford says she received help with childcare and job training skills through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Now she works as a store manager and has doubled her income. She's attending Mississippi State University to study accounting and social work.
"I would have never thought a crying 30-year old who sat in an office almost three years ago would be standing in front of all these people who are willing to here my story," said Thedford.
Child advocates say they want to support many more success stories. Unemployment and poverty often lead to placing children in foster care. Now, State Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Debra Byrant are launching Family First Initiative, a pilot project to keep families together. Judges in six counties including Bolivar, Hinds and Jackson will lead local committees in assessing the services available for families. Where gaps exist, they'll use public/private partnerships to meet the need. Justice Beam says a federal law passed this year provides funding to strengthen families.
"The business as usual of being reactive to children that are victims of neglect and abuse is not working. We need to be proactive," said Beam.
Debra Bryant says being proactive will reduce the state's foster care rolls.
"These children want to stay with their families and I think that's what we do, is we support the families because we have to make the families where these children are safe there, they're thriving," said Bryant.
Justice Beam says there are more than 5,200 children in foster care, 82 percent are because of neglect which includes poverty.
Families First for Mississippi will be the hub for providing services. The agency serves all 82 counties through its offices and partners: https://www.familiesfirstforms.org/