Forrest County Youth Court Judge talks improvements

HATTIESBURG,MS (WDAM) -  Forrest County and Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail, is trying to make a difference in a child's life at a very critical stage.

"The children, from birth to age three, come into the court system by reason of abuse or neglect. Child maltreatment," said McPhail.

McPhail says at that stage a child's life can be changed for the better through Court Teams. A program in Forrest County, McPhail has been involved with for the last five years. The program is spearheaded by an organization called Zero to Three that is led by judges who place a strong emphasis on the unique challenges facing infants and toddlers.

"We in the court system through a systemic approach could help with child safety, childhood development and also in regard to permanency. How we can make it much more affective in our systems approach to handling these children," said McPhail.

In order for court teams to work and improve those factors for a child , McPhail says child advocates, community leaders and other resources had to be called in to work with the court for at risk families and children. Over the last four years McPhail says the outcome is effective.

"As they grow older it lessens problems they will have academically. It certainly has to do with their cognitive development, with regard to their social skills," said McPhail.

McPhail says the court teams early intervention has positives down the road as well.

"One of the things I like to explain to some of the folks that hear this is that this is a front end load, or preventative measure that help us keep from having to deal with these children later on in life," said McPhail.

Once Court Teams not only intervenes with at risk children by putting them in better situations with a primary caregiver. They also help the parents improve their lives.

"Parents came in and they were discouraged. They were distraught. They had issues with substance abuse. Or even mental health issues. We help them get into programs where they can get control of their live and be unified with their children," said McPhail.

Because of the Court Teams program improvements in Forrest County, McPhail says the Zero to Three organization is looking to place it in other communities in Mississippi.

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