The Murray County Sheriff's Office has started a new visitation program at its jail for foster children whose parents are incarcerated.
This program is in partnership with the Murray County Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). Foster Care Case Manager Lauren Wiley and Murray County DFCS state attorney Andrew Powell both presented this idea to Chief Deputy Jimmy Davenport. Planning continued involving additional staff at the sheriff's office.
The team reviewed a parenting visitation module currently used at Walker State Prison to help create the program at the jail. Visitation for these children and their parents is not like the normal visit at the jail that takes place between the glass. These visits take place in a room set up for children to be more relaxed. The sheriff's office stores toys provided by Murray County DFCS and sets the visitation room up each week for the visits to take place. Murray County DFCS provides transportation to bring the children to the jail for the visitations as well as provides a parent aid to supervise the visits. The parent aid is then able to follow up and provide parenting material to the inmate, which is part of the parent's case plan created by DFCS and approved by Juvenile Court.
Visits take place on a weekly basis for one hour complying with the court order signed by Juvenile Court Judge Jason Southern. Davenport reports there has been great success thus far, reporting initially the children thought law enforcement officers were scary based on the stigma that had been created for them. Now, the children smile and wave at the officers when visiting the jail.
"You can also see the bond between the parents and the children improving as well," a spokesman said.
The sheriff's office will continue to monitor the program with Murray County DFCS Director Deborah Haynes-Smith and the foster care staff.