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Housing assistance may prevent separation of children from parents

November 19, 2020

A study of child neglect cases in Hinds and Washington counties seeks to determine whether providing housing assistance to struggling families could avoid the possibility of children being removed from parents’ custody.

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Casey Family Programs are collaborating on the study which will be concluded at the end of 2020. The Mississippi Center for Justice is looking at a sample of closed cases and new referrals in which poor housing conditions or homelessness are the major problem which could be grounds for the Youth Court to remove children from parents’ custody.  The aim is to design a model approach to deter separation of children from parents while providing assistance to study participants, said John Jopling, Housing Law Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

For low-income renters whose children face the possibility of removal, the Mississippi Center for Justice may be able to identify and address failures of landlords to make adequate repairs. For low-income home owners, governmental or non-profit funding might be found to make repairs, Jopling said.

Hinds County Court Judge Carlyn Hicks said, “Housing instability and housing insecurity are critical areas of concern for vulnerable families in Hinds County. With some of the highest rates of eviction across the Southeast, we are hopeful this initiative will bring some much needed stabilization support, housing advocacy, and insight for the courts and the community to develop better wraparounds for families involved in the child welfare system due to housing challenges. We are grateful to Casey Family Programs, Mississippi Center for Justice, and the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission for collaborating with Hinds County Youth Court on this initiative.”

Casey Family Programs provided a $60,000 grant to cover the program, said Nicole McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.

Susan Weiss, a consultant for Casey Family Program, said, “Trying to prevent the trauma of removal is a high priority.”

Washington County Youth Court Judge Vernita King Johnson said three cases had been referred by mid-November.

Advocacy Director Beth Orlansky said that assistance is first come, first served. A housing deficiency case should be referred “preferably before it goes to court. Refer them to us and we will see if we can keep them out of separation.”

The hotline number for the Mississippi Center for Justice Housing Intervention Project is 228-702-0404.

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