Natchez Children’s Home Services to stop housing children

Published 12:42 am Monday, October 26, 2009

NATCHEZ — Natchez Children’s Home Services will soon be giving up one of its nearly 200-year-old job descriptions, but it won’t be changing its equally-as-old mission.

Director Nancy Hungerford said, after a year of thought and prayer, the home’s board voted recently to stop housing children.

Instead of being a long-term housing option for children, the Children’s Home will become an agency focused mainly on placing children in foster homes and offering support to those families.

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The decision was based on a change in child welfare beliefs nationwide and influenced by two lawsuits filed against the state of Mississippi several years ago, Hungerford said.

“The need to put children in group homes is being reduced,” Hungerford said. “We are putting an emphasis on putting them in foster homes. We are going to do quite a bit more of that.”

Natchez Children’s Home Services will now focus on finding, training and supporting foster families.

“We will offer a wraparound set of services,” Hungerford said of the foster families. “Always the goal will be that those children will return to their natural families. It’s a change in the way we are delivering services, but it’s not a cessation of services.”

Part of the Children’s Home’s job will be to adequately match children with the appropriate foster family, and when applicable, facilitate the adoption process.

The home does not serve as an adoption agency, but is proud to have been a part of 60 to 75 adoptions, Hungerford said.

“We’ve got foster families, but we are looking for more,” Hungerford said. “It’s a special call that not everyone can do. View it as a home mission.”

State money that currently comes to the Children’s Home for childcare will be directed to the foster families.

In addition to the focus on foster family services, the home will continue its other services, including providing counselors for children and families in need in the community, a day treatment preschool program for emotionally disturbed children, assistance to the youth court and facilitation of a tobacco cessation grant.

The current Children’s Home building will remain as is, and will house the day treatment program. The staff will continue to work from the building, and short-term overnight housing space will remain.

The Children’s Home is licensed to house 12 children, and currently has seven. Eight others are in foster care.

The switch to a non-residential service is ongoing, but Hungerford said she hopes to have all current residents placed in foster care by next year.

“We are not closing, by no means,” Hungerford said. “In a way, we are really expanding and making a new way to serve these youngsters.”

Though the need for overnight employees, cooks and expenses needed for 24-hour care will fade with time, Hungerford said she doesn’t expect major changes to her staffing or budget. Many of those employees and dollars currently directed at overnight care will be transferred to foster care services. Fundraising efforts in the community will continue.

“Since 1816, we’ve changed many times,” she said. “We must change or we are going to die.

“The name Children’s Home Services encompasses all these other things we’ve been doing. We are not going to change that. Since 1816, we’ve been taking care of children.”

The Children’s Home is currently looking for foster families. Any Mississippi families interested in learning more about fostering children can call Stacy Havard at 601-442-6858.