National Council for Adoption honors Mississippi’s foster care progress
JACKSON — Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services Commissioner David A. Chandler was honored Monday, May 8, by the National Council for Adoption for his exceptional leadership on behalf of children in Mississippi’s foster care system.
The Warren and Mary Alice Babineaux Award was presented to Chandler by Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption, who praised Mississippi’s progress in transforming the state’s troubled child welfare system into a strong safety net for at-risk children and their families. The Babineaux Award honors individuals and organizations that have demonstrated the most selfless commitment to providing resources, education and leadership to address the many challenges facing the foster care system – including parent recruitment, training and support services necessary to give children safe, stable and loving adoptive families.
“Mississippi’s decades-long struggle to provide adequate care for all children in its foster care system—and ongoing struggle to increase adoptions of waiting children—has drawn public attention and legal concerns,” Johnson said. “We wanted to pay tribute to Dr. Chandler for a couple of things. One is the outstanding sacrifice he has made to take on this challenge. Few leave a high position they love to take on something that is as difficult and challenge as this.”
The other is Mississippi’s commitment and innovative approach to improving the state’s troubled child welfare system and the progress it has made since Chandler assumed his leadership responsibility, Johnson added.
Chandler, who serves as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services created by the 2016 Legislature as a new state agency, accepted the award on behalf of MDCPS and “for the State of Mississippi and all of the elected officials who decided to make the safety and protection of our state’s most vulnerable and at-risk children their top priority.”
After specifically crediting the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant for creating MDCPS as a stand-alone agency and providing increased funding necessary to make critical improvements and expand staffing, Chandler said he also accepted the Babineaux Award “on behalf of the hundreds and hundreds of Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services team members who show up for work each day — committed to making sure every child who needs our protection receives it and that every family who needs help getting stronger receives the appropriate services and support.”
In December 2015, Chandler resigned his seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court to accept Bryant’s appointment to oversee federally mandated reform of Mississippi’s child welfare and foster care system. Chandler first was named executive director of the Division of Family and Children’s Services, a cabinet-level position reporting directly to the governor. Chandler’s position was then appointed as MDCPS Commissioner in July 2016 when the Mississippi Legislature authorized creation of the stand-alone agency. In May 2016, Bryant signed Senate Bill 2179 separating it from the Mississippi Department of Human Services and establishing MDCPS as an independent agency and dramatically increasing its budget. The change enabled MDCPS to begin enhancing its organizational infrastructure and increasing the number of social workers employed to meet the needs of children and families across the state.
On Monday, Bryant said Chandler has “done a remarkable job in leading our state in the right direction” in solving Mississippi’s foster care problems.
“Governor, when you asked me to assume this role almost two years ago, I was handed the biggest challenge of my lifetime. But you also gave the the opportunity of a lifetime to make a real difference. I will never forget that,” Chandler said Monday. “The first thing I did was to find the best and brightest minds and hearts I could find to shape and lead this new agency. And we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”
Chandler admitted that “addressing the problems of a massive child welfare system has been, at times, overwhelming. But we are making progress… By this time next year, we will have stood up a completely new agency with a fresh face and a transformed way of doing business. We will have strengthened the safety net to protect children who need our care and we will nurture families in their own homes so at-risk situations do not turn into unsafe environments.”
Since MDCPS was created on July 1, 2016, there have been 254 permanent adoptions of foster children finalized in Mississippi. There are another 554 children currently cleared for adoption. Of those, 388 are in the process of being adopted and 166 children are awaiting an adoptive family.
As of May 5, 2016, MDCPS has 6,116 foster children in state custody.
MDCPS currently employs 1,566 staff members with about 1,200 of those working directly with at-risk children and families on the county and regional levels across Mississippi. The agency staffs its 84 county offices with social workers, supervisors, special investigators and professional adoption, licensure and field operations support personnel.
“I accept this award today for what Mississippi and MDCPS have been able to accomplish in the past two years. But, more importantly, I accept this honor for what we will do in the years to come,” Chandler said.