A Conversation with Executive Director Himes on Southern Christian Services & Covid-19
“We have thermometers in the homes, and we take their temperature and do health checks with them, just like you would do at home with your OWN CHILDREN.”
Staffers and children are adjusting to what they hope will be a temporary new normal at Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth. Executive Director Jamie Himes recently discussed how the Covid-19 outbreak has impacted the nonprofit. Himes is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Central Arkansas.
You all have numerous services, such as group homes, counseling and adoption placement. How are these programs being affected by the coronavirus?
“We do have many different programs that target early childhood trauma, and all of them have been impacted one way or another. With our outpatient trauma counseling and post-adoption care, we now provide telehealth services in those positions. The social workers who work in our therapeutic foster care program use social distancing and telehealth for all families. Before we go into any home, we call families and screen them COVID-19 exposure. We ask them about their recent travel, whether they’ve had any symptoms of respiratory distress. Those answers determine treatment plans for a visit. Those community-based programs are relying on telehealth now.”
“With our group homes and our P.A.L.S. homeless youth program, children live in our homes, so we have to have round-the-clock staff. We’re using social distancing there and are screening staff before every shift, which can be cumbersome, but we do it. Otherwise, our homes are operating much like other homes in Mississippi. Our boys are home all day, completing school assignments, doing puzzles, watching the news, reading books and magazine, playing basketball, and of course, eating. We have 12 growing teenage boys to feed.”
How do you enforce social distancing with teenagers?
“They’ve been better at it than we expected. All of them have their own room, which helps. In one of our homes, they also have their own bathrooms. At our home in Grenada, two boys do share a bathroom, but they manage it fine.”
How is distance learning working out? Do you have enough computers and tablets for them to do their work?
“It’s working well for our boys right now. Their districts aren’t using an online educational platform. Our staff goes up to the schools to pick up educational packets and bring them home. The boys complete all the assignments for the week, take them back, and the staff picks ups the packet for the next week.”
“You asked about computer access and whether we had enough tablets. We do have desktops and laptops. Our boys have access to computers in case they need to write a paper, do online research and what not.”
Have there been any cased of coronavirus among students or staffers?
“There have not been any, thankfully.”
How do you monitor kids for this?
“Of course, we ask the kids and check on their health, we ask the kids and check on their health every day. We have thermometers in the homes, and we take their temperature and do health checks with them, just like you would do at home with your own children.”
You mention doing counseling online now. How did counseling work previously?
“It could go one of two ways. Either we would go to the group home, foster homes or into the community to do therapy, or the family would come to our offices. It was always face-to-face until COVID-19 outbreak. Now, we’re doing telehealth. It’s not ideal, but it keeps the process going until the outbreak is over.”
So Southern Christian Services probably won’t keep the telehealth going?
“I can’t imagine we would, unless the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it, or one of our funding resources recommends it. Telehealth isn’t something we prefer. We prefer doing face-to-face and to have a relationship with the client in the same room.”
How many people does Southern Christian Services serve?
“Currently we have 55 children and youth living in one of our programs, whether it’s a group home, a foster home or our P.A.L.S. Transitional Living Program. We have two group homes, which are staffed 24/7. We have five or six boys living in each home. “In the last fiscal year, we placed 95 children in therapeutic foster care placement. Twenty of those children have been adopted. The year before that, we placed 103 children in foster care, and 35 of those children were adopted. That’s our goal. We want them to find stability and to be in a family.”
What ages do you serve?
“In therapeutic foster care, we serve children birth to 21 years. Then, with our P.A.L.S. program, we serve ages 18-23. In our trauma therapy outpatient program, we serve ages three to 23. When they are 23, they are aged out of the system.”
Are you still taking in kids now, even with the pandemic?
“Our group homes and P.A.L.S. programs are full, so we don’t have any space available to accept an admission. But we haven’t stopped the referral process, so if we have a discharge, a space is available, there is a child in need, we will admit them.”
When kids are admitted to a group home, how long do they typically stay with you?
“There have been in years past where kids would stay with us for years, until they either aged out of the system, went back to their biological families or CPS (the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services) found them an adopted family. Now, that time is shorter. They usually stay between six months to a year.”
Why is that?
“Last year, the Families First Prevention Services Act was passed. It’s federal legislation that dictates how long kids can stay in congregant care, which is another way of saying group home. There really is a national push to take kids out of group home settings and put them in family settings. Because there is a push for that, many kids are not staying in group homes as long as they used to. The act is also changing the way the system is funded, so congregant care group homes, on the federal level, are not being funded at the same level they used to be.”
How is Southern Christian Services funded?
“We are funded through a variety of ways. We’ve got state contracts and federal funding. We have grants that we’ve written, and those are through family foundations and so forth. We also have private individual donors that give on a regular basis. You can go to our website and look at our annual report to see how it is all broken down.”
You also have a major fundraiser in September. Is that still going on as planned?
“It is. We recently had to reschedule our Sonny Foundation Memorial Golf Tournament, which was originally scheduled for May 5. We have rescheduled that for October. Our Bottom Line for Kids event, a benefit that is help at the Country Club of Jackson, is September 17, and is still going as planned.”
What are the biggest material needs right now, especially when it comes to group homes?
“Any paper products are welcome. Shampoo, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. We also accept any donations to feed the boys, including gift cards to restaurants and grocery stores and non-perishable food items. We welcome any cash donations. People can visit our website for more information.”
“One program we haven’t talked about is our Parent Strong program. With this, our staff goes to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and substance abuse treatment centers in Central Mississippi and provide parenting classes for inmates preparing for release, and for those early substance abuse recovery. We’re not allowed to go to the prisons or treatment centers right now, so Parent Strong classes and support groups have been temporarily suspended.”
For more information about Southern Christian Services, log on to scscy.org. All questions where asked by Northside Sun.