A meeting is set for 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. March 22 at the Robinson–Carpenter Memorial Library in Cleveland.
DHS Social Worker Joyce Juitt said this is the first program in the Delta that provides support for individuals who are raising children that they did not birth.
"We are trying to ensure that foster care is the last option; therefore, we try to provide services to individuals who have taken on the noble task of raising someone else's child or children," said Juitt.
According to Mississippi Families for Kids, relative care in Mississippi is on the rise but has been addressed by few.
There are 49,336 children in Mississippi living in grandparent–headed households and there are 3,320 other children in Mississippi living in households headed by relatives other than grandparents.
"The program is fairly new to Bolivar County but we hope that people will take advantage of the services that it offers," she added.
According to Juitt there are a large number of nontraditional families who are unaware of the amenities that are accessible to them.
"Sometimes these individuals do not have any support or they may not have money to pay a lawyer to receive custody of the child that they are caring for," she added.
Juitt said in some instances proof of legal guardianship is required to enroll a child in school or to receive medical services.
The goal of the program is to bring attention to the necessity for legal, educational, and financial assistance for grandparents and other related caregivers.
"In some cases, a child is placed in the care of a grandparent and the mother or father may not be in the child's life. The relative that has to raise the child may not be receiving benefits to aid in rearing the child that they did not birth," continued Juitt.
"We try to direct guardians to agencies that can help them properly care for the child. We even go so far as providing school clothes, school supplies and bill pay," she said.
The program also provides legal assistance at no or minimal cost.
"As long as the parent is willing to allow the relative to take custody of the child then it can be free. We provide lawyers to help individuals who need assistance with the child getting custody of children. Attorney Aleicia Thomas provides guardianship and custody legal assistance," she added.
"Although some individuals place their child in the care of a relative under informal custody, legally this is not the proper form of custody. In most cases, formal custody is required for a person to receive government assistance," she continued.
According to Juitt, an informal custody agreement is a verbal arrangement that is made between parents that outline the manner in which they will jointly raise a child and a formal custody agreement is an agreement that is usually determined through the court system.
Individuals who desire to attend the meeting and receive legal assistance must bring in a copy of the child's birth certificate, photo identification (care giver), consent from the biological parent/s to guardianship and if applicable, a death certificate of the deceased parent/s.
"We host meetings every month and we encourage individuals to come out and seek help," said Juitt.
For more information, contact Juitt at 1-800-241-KIDS or at 662-402-8339.