HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After serving children for nearly 40 years, the only diagnostic evaluation center in South Mississippi will close their doors for good.
“That’s a real loss for that service," said Children’s Canopy Solutions CEO John Damon.
The South Mississippi Children’s Center is set to close officially on Sept. 28. Canopy Children’s Solutions has owned the shelter for more than 20 years. During that time, they have served nearly 6,000 at-risk youth.
“There’s a federal act that was passed— Family First Act— that was passed back in February… that really has an emphasis to move away from congregate care settings and towards community-based settings, " Damon said.
Families First Prevention Services Act, was introduced in 2017, with the intent to “invest in funding prevention and family services to help keep children safe and supported at home" and ensure children in foster care are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like settings. The act allows states to use federal foster care matching funds for prevention services that address mental health, substance abuse, and parenting skills to keep at-risk children from entering the foster-care system. Additionally, it limits federal reimbursements for youth who are placed in congregate care settings. Starting Oct. 1, 2019, states have two years to opt out of the Family First Act.
On average, eight to nine at-risk children stayed at the center for up to 45 days until they were moved. According to Le Ann Brandon, Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services director of communications, there was a total of 1, 544 nights for children at the center by MDCPS between July 2017 and June 2018.
“MDCPS does not operate any congregate care or group homes and we are not the decision maker on which homes stay open and which close,” said Brandon. “We “contract” with group homes and treatment facilities to house some of our foster children for a limited period of time and pay a “per diem” for their board/care.”
Brandon added that the changes to the system had a major impact in the center’s closing when it came to funding.
“The new federal act impacts congregate care facilities/group in that it limits (reduces) the number of days MDCPS can receive federal reimbursement (Title IV-E-funding) for housing a foster child in a group setting,” she said.
“Our goal was always that the next place might be the last placement for the child," Damon said. "We understand the needs for the child are, we try to match those with either a foster home or another family member or if they need a treatment center.”
With only five centers in the state, those in need of services the South Mississippi Children’s Center provided, will have travel up north to places like Vicksburg.
“I think what the state is trying to do is try to find foster homes or therapeutic foster homes or kinship homes for the child and wraps services around a family clinical services that they need in the community suppose to them being in a shelter," Damon said.