Voicing concerns over loss of CASA advocates in Harrison County

Some concerned parents with cases currently being handled in Harrison County’s Youth Court turned out for this morning’s Harrison County Board of Supervisors meeting in Gulfport along with some workers and volunteers with CASA.

Since 2011, CASA has served in nearly 1,000 cases involving 2,000 children in court cases of alleged abuse and/or neglect in Harrison County and recently CASA expanded their services into Stone County.

However, after a court order was entered by Harrison County Youth Court Judge Michael Dickinson in September prohibiting CASA access to youth court records and cases until the firing and replacement of Executive Director Jeannie Herrin, the services of CASA advocates has been suspended, inciting concerns of those with cases still in the youth court system where custody issues still hinge and have yet to be decided.

News 25 spoke with one parent who showed up for Monday’s meeting and spoke with the board of supervisors after an executive session was called due to potential litigation concerns and personnel matters.

The parent has asked to remain anonymous, but had this to say: “There’s a whole bunch of families that need CASA, and if we don’t have CASA-CASA believes in the reunification of families. CPS is trying to divide families I don’t do drugs or anything else, and then you take my child because somebody who doesn’t like me said something bad. That’s not fair, then you have a whole team of people working against you on that. Then you have people in CASA helping-and they’re gone now – that’s not right at all.”

News 25 did reach out to Youth Court Judge Michael Dickinson earlier today. While he was on the bench, he did have a staff member call us and say he is working with the National Division of CASA and trying to resolve the issue so CASA advocates can return to continue to assist in Harrison County cases.

Judge Dickinson’s court filing alleges he was not informed of visits to the Harrison County Youth Shelter when he should have been as well as CASA’s expansion into Stone County in early September.

An attorney for the local branch of CASA has filed a response to this motion, requesting to set aside Judge Dickinson’s sua sponte order, citing lack of proper jurisdiction and due process concerns, saying CASA is governed by National CASA guidelines and that Judge Dickinson has over-reached in this case.

Although the Harrison County Board of Supervisors went into executive session to discuss the matter at today’s meeting the board did issue this statement: ” The board issued a resolution today in support of CASA and believes that CASA is a very important part of the care of children within Harrison County, and the board encourages Judge Dickinson to reach out to CASA and its executive director to resolve any issues to the betterment and best interest of Harrison County. We all are first concerned with the care of the children under the jurisdiction of the youth court and CASA. We hope everyone will keep the children’s interest first for their protection.”

News 25 will continue to keep you updated with the latest developments as they become available in this case.

Categories: Featured, Harrison County, Local News, News

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