- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) - Harrison and Jackson counties led the state in the number of reported child abuse cases in 2013, according to the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Cathy Barnes of the Gulfport’s South Mississippi Child Abuse Prevention Center tells The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/1g9RR6d) the only correlation officials have been able to draw about why the coastal counties have such high numbers is the stress factors and economic effects of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

“People don’t have the money they used to have and they still have to pay their bills,” Barnes said.

Harrison County reported 742 cases in 2013 followed by Jackson County second with 551. Both ranked ahead of Hinds County, the most populous county in the state, which reported 458, and Rankin County with 461.

Those numbers reflect all law enforcement and court reports of child abuse from October 2012 to September 2013.

Pascagoula Police Chief Kenny Johnson said his department works with area organizations, including schools, to find cases of child abuse. He said 58 cases have been reported in Pascagoula over the past three years, though not all of those cases have risen to the level of child abuse.

Johnson said contributing factors to child abuse are not only economic struggles, but also mental health issues, substance abuse and poor parenting skills.

The CAP Center is a community-based program aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect.

“Child abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual . even neglect,” said Franklin Williams, executive director. “And it is not limited to one county, one city or one country. Unfortunately, it is everywhere, and could be taking place on your street.”

The CAP Center takes a two-prong approach - prevention and advocacy, Williams said.

“We address both pre-abuse situations - by pairing trained volunteers with at-risk parents - and the post-event situation by providing advocacy services,” Williams said. “These can range from forensic interviews that spare the child additional trauma, to emotional support to working with a variety of agencies to best benefit the child.”

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com