NCHS changing, expanding not closing

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Natchez Children’s Home Services is “saving lives, one child at a time,” and we are shifting gears to ensure that historic mission continues!

In 1816 a group of Christian women met in Natchez to establish the Female Charitable Society. It was intended to house and educate children in the territory orphaned by Indian wars and yellow fever epidemics.

Today in the United States, orphans constitute less than 3 percent of children in out-of-home care. The 3,600 Mississippi children currently in state custody are victims of physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and struggling biological families.

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In 2004, Children’s Rights, Inc., filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Mississippi on behalf of children in out-of-home care. Children’s Rights Inc., began 35 years ago as a project of the New York Civil Liberties Union, later the American Civil Liberties Union, and finally became an independent nonprofit in 1995.

Children’s Rights, Inc., is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems across the country. To date, it has won legal victories in over a dozen states. According to their Web site ( they have “issued national policy reports and engaged in advocacy efforts that are changing the way child welfare is practiced in the United States.”

Late in 2007 a settlement agreement with Mississippi was reached that mandated top-to-bottom reform of the state child welfare system over five years. Mandates include:

Increased training and decreased case loads for DFCS (Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services) workers

Decreased lengths of stay for children in emergency shelters and group homes

No placement of children under age 10 in group homes

No placement of children outside a 50 mile radius of their biological family

Maintaining children in their biological family or with a relative whenever possible, with community-based support services being provided to avoid removal or disruption

Use of Foster (Resource) Families if it is deemed necessary to remove a child or children from biological family.

Natchez Children’s Home Services has been licensed as both a child caring agency and a child placing agency for over 20 years. With the current mandates in place, our emphasis is now on identifying, training and supporting additional foster families in Mississippi and matching those families to children referred to NCHS.

Foster families have loved and nurtured NCHS children for years. During 2009, 10 youngsters have been in NCHS foster families. If you have an interest in becoming a foster parent contact Stacy Havard or Jackie Biggs-Eidt at 601-442-6858 for information.

So . . . besides an increase in foster families, what is going on at 806 North Union St.? Our building still rings with the voices of many children.

Each day, in partnership with Catholic Charities, we provide three classes for 27 preschoolers in our mental health certified Day Treatment program. Plans include opening a fourth classroom in 2010.

Family, group and individual counseling is offered by our Licensed Certified Social Worker.

Case management services and advocacy for children, youth and families continue.

NCHS provides office space and support for grants administered through Adams County Coalition for Children and Youth as well as counseling for Adams County Youth Court families.

International mission trip opportunities are ongoing and schedules for 2010 are being developed.

NCHS welcomes volunteer groups and individuals with opportunities for community service.

Informational programs and a short DVD on the ministry of Natchez Children’s Home Services and child welfare are available to churches, civic groups, clubs and any interested organizations.

As Natchez Children’s Home Services approaches its 194th year of continuous service to Mississippi’s vulnerable and at-risk children, the delivery of those services has necessarily changed to meet requirements of Department of Human Services.

Our need for your support hasn’t changed, however! Please hold NCHS and its children in your hearts and prayers as we continue the demanding work of “saving lives, one child at a time.”

Nancy Hungerford is the director of the Natchez Children’s Home.