JACKSON— By negotiating a new settlement agreement in the Olivia Y. foster care lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) has reached another milestone in its mission to protect the children of Mississippi.
The new agreement, approved today by the U.S. District Court, creates clear, obtainable objectives and enhances the ability of the newly-formed MDCPS to direct its full attention to protecting Mississippi’s children. This agreement is the latest step in the reformation of the state’s child welfare system.
“This agreement will clear the way going forward for Mississippi to ensure the safety of all our children,” said MDCPS Commissioner David A. Chandler. “Our agency is working diligently to protect Mississippi’s children and nurture families by providing effective and efficient delivery of services statewide.”
In December 2015, Governor Phil Bryant tapped Chandler to oversee reform of Mississippi’s foster care system. In May, Bryant signed Senate Bill 2179 establishing MDCPS as an independent agency and dramatically increasing its budget. The change enabled MDCPS to begin enhancing its infrastructure and increasing the number of social workers employed to meet the needs of children and families across the state.
“Our children deserve the best care in the nation,” Governor Bryant said when he signed the bill. Approval of the new settlement agreement is a big step forward for MDCPS as it pursues Bryant’s objective.
Although the court’s approval of MDCPS’ progress is acknowledged as a positive indicator of the agency’s ongoing work to improve child welfare services, Chandler underscores “a lot of hard work” remains to be done.
“Because the agency has the leadership as well as the support of the Legislature, the Governor, and the people of Mississippi, MDCPS will continue to make great strides toward making welfare reform a reality. Protecting children and nurturing families remain the unwavering focus for everything we do.”
Under the new agreement, many unnecessarily rigorous reporting requirements under the 2012 settlement agreement have been lifted, freeing MDCPS to devote full attention to accomplishing its mission of protecting children and working to enhance the foster care system. As the system is further improved and critical performance measures are met and maintained for a 12-month period, the individual measures will be removed from monitoring, creating an achievable path toward the eventual end of court oversight.
Key to these reforms is increasing the number of social workers across the state. Under the new agreement MDCPS is now able to hire recent college graduates with social work or related human services degrees, and then provide on-the-job clinical training to enhance the skill sets of the new hires. Increasing the number of highly trained social workers will play a tremendous role in optimizing the level of care for children.
“This new agreement wisely measures the steps that are most important to reaching our goal of protecting Mississippi’s children and nurturing families – and it will provide quantifiable evidence that we are, indeed, significantly improving the child welfare system in our state,” said Deputy Commissioner of Child Welfare Tracy Malone.
“Thanks to the leadership of our governor and other elected officials, we are now able to enact system reform in Mississippi that directly impacts the lives of the children and families statewide. With their support, we are working daily to improve and expand our services. We are putting more well-trained employees into every county of our state. We are recruiting and licensing more foster homes and adoptive, loving parents to care for children in need. And we are focusing all that we do to ensure the safety of every Mississippi child,” added Malone.
Among the key metrics mandated under the new settlement agreement is for MDCPS to increase the number of licensed foster homes across the state and to move foster children toward permanency as expeditiously as possible. This means the agency will continue to bolster its efforts to reunite children safely with their parents who have regained stability and, when that is not possible, recruit loving, adoptive families.
“MDCPS is appreciative for the continued support and the entire agency is grateful for the given opportunity to affect real change in the lives of Mississippi’s children and families,” Chandler added. “The assistance of so many has paved the road to completing this phase of the Olivia Y. settlement and it truly has been a collaborative effort. MDCPS recognizes the determination and hard work of countless individuals both inside and outside the agency and it is with gratitude this update of accomplishment and hope is shared.”
2nd Modified Mississippi Settlement Agreement And Reform Plan (http://mdcps.ms.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Second-MSA.pdf)
Stipulated Third Remedial Order (http://mdcps.ms.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/STRO.pdf)