FACT conference pushes advocates to innovate

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Social workers, educators and counselors can’t rely on the village to help them catch kids before they get into trouble.
“The village, as we know it today, has changed dramatically,” professor Irma Gibson, a veteran social worker from Savannah State University in Georgia, told 125 children and family advocates who gathered for the annual FACT conference in Tupelo on Thursday. “Today, the village is indeed broken.”
Davis, who was the conference’s keynote speaker, urged the gathering of social workers, counselors, educators and advocates to work with each other to find new ways to connect with troubled youth before they end up in the system.
“We have to step outside our boxes,” Gibson said.
The 16th annual conference for social workers, educators, foster parents, counselors and other family advocates was created to inform and connect the people who are working to help families around Northeast Mississippi.
“We can no longer be divided,” said Shelia Nabors, regional community partnership coordinator for the Division of Family and Children’s Services. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
The stakes are high for failing to get effective intervention to children and families early. Roughly 1 in 3 Africian-American boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys are at increased risk for incarceration, Davis said. The number of girls in juvenile detention is rapidly increasing.
“Our society will pay for disarray in the village now or later,” Gibson said. “Later is going to be much more expensive.”
But reaching today’s children, especially before they get into trouble, takes new strategies.
“Would you want a doctor using 18th century instruments on you?” Gibson asked.
Gibson and her collaborators have seen success with interactive programs, like hip-hop therapy, where kids use music to share their experiences, and Operation Take Back Burial, where students symbolically bury essays about what’s holding them back and have the opportunity to connect with community resources at school.
“It made a difference in one of the worst high schools in Atlanta,” Gibson said.
Gibson said ultimately youth need caring adults they can trust.
“You people need to believe adults are in for the long haul,” Gibson said, “and these adults listen to them,” she said.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com