Judge Sharon Sigalas
Foster Children in Jackson County are finding hope in being reunited with their parents and families through a pilot Re-Unification Program hosted by the Jackson County Youth Court (JCYC). For the first time Wednesday, May 9th 2018, children, parents, and foster parents came together to celebrate children being reunited with their parents at a banquet hosted by Judge Sharon Sigalas and the Jackson County Youth Court. Other leaders were also present including local D.A., Tony Lawrence and State Senator Brice Wiggins.
There are many reasons why this program is important as fostered children numbers continue to rise. Senator Brice Wiggins and other coastal legislators worked to see legislation passed in 2016 that would stimulate this process. The Senator reports that in the state of Mississippi, 2/3 of all foster children reside in the lower 3 counties of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson. Although the legislation passed, funding such a program is always an issue.
Senator Brice Wiggins
While much of the details surrounding these cases are confidential, a judicial study group worked to find a way to enhance the law to encourage reunification and celebrate the success stories of reunification. Consequently, the idea of a Reunification Banquet was born and Judge Sigalas stepped up to make it happen.
Thanks to funding from the Annie E. Casey foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and an additional 100 million from the Mississippi State Legislature 2017 budget, the reunification program is gaining strength. The first inaugural Reunification Banquet by JCYC highlights an intensive and comprehensive rehabilitation approach to helping children in foster care reunite with their parents toward permanency. Through the aid of a trained, credentialed, Parent Representative appointee, parents are coached through court dates, rehabilitation, counseling, legal help, and more while the children receive the care and attention they need through foster care.
Commissioner, Jess Dickinson
Jurist in Residence, John Hudson
According to Judge Sigalas, “since this is a pilot program, there is a lot of data that needs to be collected and compared across the state in order to determine the strengths and weakness in the program”. She credits Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services (MDCPS) commissioner, Jess Dickinson, and John Hudson, Jurist in Residence (Youth Courts) Mississippi Supreme Court with making the reunification program a priority within the Mississippi Youth Court system. Both were in attendance at the banquet and Commissioner Dickinson was the keynote speaker at the banquet. He emphasized the importance of why this program is vital to the lives of children and families. Judge Sigalas said, “The fact that the (MDCPS) Commissioner would drive here to be a part of this event speaks to the importance of it”. Senator Wiggins added, “the new law encourages reunification… no one wants a child to remain in the system. This event highlights the success stories and they need to be told. JCYC and CASA of Jackson County are on the forefront to making this program successful”.
As the first Reunification Banquet is now in the books for Judge Sigalas and the JCYC staff, she and her colleagues look forward to the program expanding across the state and here in Jackson County, thus putting children and parents back together in healthy, productive, caring homes. The success stories do need to be told and celebrated because the reunification program is important to the success of many children and families in our community and across our state.