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PRESS RELEASE: Governor signs bill establishing foster care agency


Gov. Phil BryantJACKSON, Miss. —
Last week Governor Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2179 establishing the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS). MDCPS was formerly operating as the Division of Family & Children’s Services under the Mississippi Department of Human Services, but has recently undergone restructuring as part of the settlement resulting from the lawsuit filed on behalf of Olivia Y. Commissioner David Chandler has been working diligently with Gov. Bryant to increase the level of care for Mississippi’s foster children. The signing of Senate Bill 2179 brings the MDCPS one step closer to achieving their goal of protecting children and nurturing Mississippi families. Gov. Bryant outlined this bill as one of his highest priorities in his 2016 State of the State address and the Mississippi Legislature acted on that request during the 2016 Legislative Session.

MDHS Executive Director, Family and Children’s Services, Speaks at 14th Annual Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conference


mcwic-29_24668875942_oMississippi’s executive director of foster care, Dr. David Chandler, received a standing ovation after delivering the opening plenary address recently at the Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conference. The School of Social Work – College of Public Service at Jackson State University sponsored the conference in Jackson from January 27 – 29 to provide training and networking opportunities for social workers, educators, students, and others committed to the welfare of children. Chandler told the audience that Mississippi needs to hire more than 200 additional social workers and increase their salaries. “We need help. We need lots of help, and we’re willing to pay,” said Chandler. Chandler gave up his seat on the Mississippi State Supreme Court to lead the state’s Division of Family and Children’s Services in December. The system could be put into receivership if it doesn’t comply with a federal court order by May 15. To make reforms, it will cost millions. “We look forward to working with Dr. Chandler to find innovative solutions to foster care reform, and we stand ready to assist the agency with meeting its workforce goals, said Dr. Ricardo Brown, dean of the JSU College of Public Service.

Pictured (L-R, Attorney Rhonda Cooper, Dr. Ricardo Brown, dean of the College of Public Service, Standing, Dr. Chandler, Dr. Evelyn J. Leggette, provost of academic affairs)

View a photo album from the 14th Annual Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conference.

New foster care director details system changes


By: Anne Parker (Original Post)

Dr. David ChandlerJACKSON, Miss. —
The new director of Mississippi’s foster care program says it’s a new day for the department.

Dr. David Chandler unveiled his plans Thursday during a conference in Jackson. Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Chandler to be the new director of the Division of Family and Children’s Services in December. Chandler left the Mississippi Supreme Court to take the position.

“What is more important? Signing off on a legal issue or saving a child’s life? There’s no question,” Chandler said.

Chandler said the state needs to hire more than 200 additional social workers and raise salaries, which he said will carry a $34.5 million price tag for the Legislature. 

“We must make sure every child has a safe place to live, sufficient food to eat, proper clothing and care,” Chandler said.

Conference leaders said changes are needed.

“Since Chandler is from the state of Mississippi, he is in a better position to really identify our needs and look at the areas we need to improve in and make sure our children are taken care of and moved through the foster care system,” Mississippi Child Welfare Conference Chairman Dr. Theresa Ratliff said.

Chandler faces a May 15 deadline to complete an overhaul of the system or face federal takeover.

“The judge will ask us what we have gotten done, and he will review it, and he will make the ruling,” Chandler said. “I’m very optimistic that we will avoid any adverse ruling May 15.”

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Chandler leaving high court to lead foster care reform


By: Geoff Pender, The Clarion-Ledger (Original Post)

State Supreme Court Justice David Chandler has left his elected post on the high court to oversee federally mandated reform of Mississippi’s foster care system.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced Monday morning that he is appointing Chandler, effective immediately, as executive director of the Division of Family and Children’s Services. Bryant for the first time is making the DFCS director a cabinet-level position that reports directly to the governor and wants the Legislature to make DFCS a stand-alone agency instead of a subdivision of the Department of Human Services.

Chandler said Bryant approached him about taking over the state’s troubled child welfare system and, “telling the governor no is a difficult thing.” He said he agreed to take the job for four years, “but no more,” and is planning to leave when Bryant’s second and final term ends.

“I’m going from a situation where voters only could remove me to one where one guy can,” Chandler said. “I may be fired before the sun goes down, but I plan to do what I can to get this system functioning in such a way that every Mississippian can be proud of it.

“We have got to fix this.”

Bryant, elected to a second term in November, has said reform of the state’s foster care and child welfare system is a top priority. He plans to push the Legislature next year for $37 million in additional funding to meet terms of the “Olivia Y” federal lawsuit settlement. His appointment of Chandler, who has 20 years of experience in education serving as a teacher, counselor, school psychometrist and administrator before his legal career, appears to reinforce that commitment.

“(Chandler’s) experience and ability will be invaluable in making sure our foster care system operates safely and efficiently,” Bryant said in a statement Monday.

Olivia Y was one of eight children named as plaintiffs — but representing many others — abused because Mississippi failed to protect children in foster care. Olivia in 2003 was a 3½-year-old girl in Forrest County who entered state custody weighing only 22 pounds. Despite being malnourished, she was listed as having no problems and was not given a medical exam. She was given five separate foster placements in the first three months of her entry into DFCS custody. DFCS placed Olivia in her aunt’s house, claiming a background check on adults in the house had been done, but she was removed after the agency learned the aunt’s son was a convicted rapist.

After being placed in a shelter, Olivia was malnourished, suffering depression and showed signs of sexual abuse, but DFCS, according to the original complaint, made no effort to perform a thorough medical exam to determine sexual abuse or the extent of her injuries or find her a permanent home even after six months in state custody. DFCS at the time still listed as its ultimate goal to reunite Olivia with her mother who had neglected her.

The lawsuit — on behalf of thousands of children who go through the Mississippi system — was filed in federal court in 2004. A settlement was reached in 2008, but the state has since failed to comply with the terms of the settlement. As of the end of May, the state had 4,931 children in its custody.

“We are going to get this done,” Bryant said recently. “We have no choice. If we don’t do it, the federal court is going to make us do it.”

Chandler on Monday said a recent order by the federal court has made it clear it has lost patience with Mississippi failing to enact and fund reforms.

“Something’s going to give within the next few months,” Chandler said. “Either the state of Mississippi is going to show it cares for children in its custody, or the federal government will do it.”

A July court order directed Bryant to either call a special session of the Legislature to address reform and funding or deal with it in regular session that begins Jan. 5. If lawmakers fail to act, the court directed plaintiffs to refile a contempt complaint, Chandler said, and “contempt has already been decided.” The state could face its child welfare system being placed in federal receivership, and a judge could force the state to fund changes.

Chandler said the state Legislature should not want to lose control of the purse strings and policy. He said the court would likely work with the state if it is making a good-faith, timely effort to fix problems, but would likely be more rigid if not. Beyond that, Chandler said, the state doesn’t need such a rap in the national spotlight.

“We don’t want all the nation to hear Mississippi did such a poor job protecting children in its custody that the federal government had to take over,” Chandler said.

Chandler said the governor will lobby the Legislature to make DFCS a stand-alone agency and remove it from State Personnel Board oversight to allow restructuring. He said the state has long suffered a shortage of social workers and hiring more would be an obvious early challenge. He said increasing social worker pay, which is lower than that of public school teachers, is also an obvious change. He said the state will soon know the time frame under which it must make changes and increase funding.

Chandler, 69, was elected to an eight-year term on the state’s high court in 2008 and would have been up for re-election in November 2016. Bryant plans to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of Chandler’s term on the nine-member court.

Chandler was born in Kosciusko and grew up in Weir. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education from Mississippi State University, a law degree from the University of Mississippi and a master of law in judicial process from the University of Virginia.

For about 10 years, he worked in Choctaw County public schools before becoming a research and curriculum specialist at MSU, where he developed material for secondary and post-secondary work-force training programs.

After law school, Chandler practiced law in Tupelo and Choctaw County, where he served as attorney for the Board of Supervisors. He was municipal judge in Weir from 1999 until he was elected to the Court of Appeals, where he served for eight years until he was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2008.

Chandler has authored numerous professional articles on education and law.

Chandler and his wife, Glenda, live in Louisville and have two sons. His son Clay Chandler, a former Clarion-Ledger reporter, recently wasnamed communications director for Bryant.

Chandler said he’s heard many terrible stories from Mississippi’s child welfare system and dealt with such cases as a Supreme Court justice. But he said a recent encounter with a Mississippi couple gives him hope. They adopted two children — a 2-year-old and an infant — after the children were abandoned at a hotel and taken into state custody.

“Fast-forward,” Chandler said, “and that 2-year-old is now a college engineering major, and his sister is now graduating high school and looking forward to a medical career and has the ability to make it into medical school. That’s what proper services can do, not only for children, but for our state.”


Supreme Court justice David Chandler steps down to run foster care system


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Associate State Supreme Court Justice David Chandler is stepping down from the bench to take over Mississippi’s troubled foster care system.

Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that, effective immediately, Chandler and the Division of Family and Children’s Services will report directly to him, instead of to Department of Human Services Executive Director Rickey Berry.

“We must do everything in our power to keep them safe and see that they are afforded proper food, shelter and clothing,” the 69-year-old Chandler said in a statement about the children in the system. “We must pursue every avenue available to us to help them find the family that is meant for them.”

Bryant’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information about the governor’s authority to order the administrative change.

The unit, which oversees Mississippi’s foster care system, is subject to the 11-year-old federal Olivia Y lawsuit alleging children are being abused because of state failings and demands reforms. The case is named after a then-young girl who was one of eight children who lawyers said had been abused because of the state’s failures.

Mississippi has made four separate agreements over seven years to improve conditions, but hasn’t lived up to any of them. Lawyers suing the state agreed in July to drop their demands that U.S. District Judge Tom Lee hold the state in contempt in exchange for deeper involvement by Bryant.

One of those commitments was to hire a new executive director. The division has been led by an acting director since the summer.

A report commissioned in July calls for the Division of Family and Children’s Services to remain within the Department of Human Services for now, but function like a separate agency, with plans to make it a separate department by June 30, 2018.

New Jersey-based Public Catalyst, a consulting group that wrote the report, said it met with candidates and recommended one to Bryant.

The report recommends a pilot program to privatize certain child welfare functions in at least one county, using an existing private agency providing services in Mississippi.

Public Catalyst calls for exempting the division from the civil service rules of the Mississippi Personnel Board for three years, allowing Chandler to hire and fire freely. The report also recommends changes in caseload standards, higher salaries, and better computer systems.

Bryant said in October that he would ask lawmakers to increase state funding for the foster care system by $37 million. That’s less than the additional $53 million requested by the Department of Human Services in September budget hearings.

“I think the governor knows that reform isn’t going to take place without more money,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the lead plaintiff’s lawyer.

Lowry said she and the state are trying to negotiate a new agreement to present to Lee at a Dec. 21 hearing. She said that without a new agreement, she would ask to name an outside receiver to take control of the child welfare system.

“It’s an unconstitutional system; it’s in violation of the court order,” she said. “Children are being harmed.”

Chandler had served on the court since 2009. Bryant may appoint someone to fill the remainder of his eight-year term. A successor would be elected in 2016, to take office in 2017.

Bryant hired Chandler’s son, Clay Chandler, to be his communications director last month.


Gov. Bryant Taps Justice Chandler to Lead Overhaul of Child Welfare System


By: R.L. Nave (Original Post)

Photo detailThe State of Mississippi took the first step toward following a set of recommendations for complying with the long-running court case over the state’s foster-care system known as Olivia Y.

Today, Gov. Phil Bryant named Mississippi Supreme Court Justice David Chandler as the executive director to the Division of Family and Children’s Services. In a news release, the governor’s office said Chandler would vacate his seat on the state’s high court to oversee child-welfare and foster-care systems.

In July, Mississippi admitted that it has not met court-order requirements in the seven-year-old lawsuit, which resulted in an order to overhaul the state’s foster-care system.

As part of an agreed order, Bryant consented to hire an executive director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services as a cabinet-level position instead of a division of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

“Our Mississippi children who are placed in the care of the state are some of our most precious citizens. They find themselves without a family through no fault of their own, and we must do everything in our power to keep them safe and see that they are afforded proper food, shelter and clothing. We must pursue every avenue available to us to help them find the family that is meant for them,” Chandler said through a press release from Bryant’s office.

Chandler’s son, Clay, recently joined Bryant’s staff as communications director after working as a reporter for the Mississippi Business Journal and the Clarion-Ledger.

As part of the agreed order, the state also agreed to hire a consultant to conduct a full review of the child-care system and to recommend changes. Iselin, N.J.-based firm Public Catalyst published the review Nov. 24 that also recommends piloting “a targeted, county-based privatization of child welfare services (excluding child abuse and neglect investigations).” This privatization pilot would begin with a 12-month planning period in counties with “the need to expand and strengthen services for children and families…strong private capacity…and ample public agency leadership support for the collaboration.”


The report also recommends focusing on family-based placement of foster children and moving away from group homes and to equip caseworkers with better tools, such as smartphones and tablets, to conduct fieldwork.

A Kosciusko native, Chandler has served on the court since 2008. Mississippi Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. congratulated Justice Chandler in a statement.

“Justice Chandler has been a valuable member of the court. He is a scholarly jurist who has provided meticulous analysis of complicated legal issues. His many years of judicial experience and extensive background in the field of education will serve the state well in his new position,” Waller said.

The full Public Catalyst report can be found here.

Arielle Dreher contributed reporting to this story.