Officials seek DHS reform in Hancock
By Dwayne Bremer
Mar 14, 2017, 18:04
A statewide bill to reform certain practices at the Department of Human Services failed to get through the state legislature earlier this year, but one local lawmaker hopes a local-private bill designed just for Hancock County will pass before the end of the term.
State Rep. Timmy Ladner, District 93, on Friday introduced several bills specific to Hancock County and the local branch of DHS.
"Ever since I took office, I have been fielding calls about DHS," Ladner said Tuesday. "Local-private bills usually get support. Hopefully, we can get some things in place."
The bills, co-written by Harrison County legislator Richard Bennett mirror the ones introduced earlier this year.
The state-wide bill failed, in part, because of lobbying by the state's chancery court judges.
Ladner said that it is well understood in Jackson that Hancock County has many issues involving DHS.
"I get a lot of calls, more than my counterparts across the state," he said. "It may not be as big an issue elsewhere, but with the number of complaints here, something needs to be done."
One of the items includes language where people who report abuse or neglect will have to give their names and other basic information.
That is currently a requirement when abuse or neglect by doctors and consolers.
The information will still be kept confidential by the agency, but the hope is that it will deter people from making false or malicious claims, Ladner said.
In many cases, individuals have abused the anonymous complaint system to retaliate, intimidate, and coheres others.
"People are terrified of DHS," one local elected official recently said. "It's like the Spanish Inquisition."
According to the U.S. Department of Health, about 78 percent of child abuse/neglect reports are ultimately deemed to be unsubstantiated.
Despite that, in about 21 percent of those cases, children are still taken into custody.
"We have a lot of bogus calls that are driving folks crazy," Ladner said.
Another bill would allow a parent to request his or her case to be transferred to chancery court during a parental rights proceeding.
"I don't know if this is the answer for all the issues surrounding DHS, but it's a start," Ladner said. "We just need that agency to do it's job the right way."