Child welfare system improving

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JACKSON – Both sides of court-ordered reforms for Mississipp’s scandal-ridden child welfare system said Friday they see needed improvements under way.

“The ball is in the state’s court to deliver,” said Sarah R. Glassman, an attorney with A Better Childhood Inc., of Chappaqua, N.Y., which helped sue the state after evidence of repeated abuse or neglect to children in the state’s care. “I am optimistic – I feel like the instructions are clear.”

Thursday, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee signed a second court order instructing the state to continue with specifics to comply with his 2008 mandate to clean up the system.

The order gave the new state Department of Child Protective Services additional goals to accomplish and more time to reach them in hiring additional staff to spend more time with foster children and the families who care for them.

Dr. David Chandler, the agency’s first director, said his staff continues to “check off

David Chandler, state director of children's services

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

David Chandler, state director of children’s services

boxes” of tasks to meet Lee’s order.

“We have accomplished all the requirements that were due as of today,” the former Mississippi Supreme Court justice noted. “We also have some new things to accomplish.”

The Mississippi Legislature approved $34 million this past legislative session to establish the new agency from departments in the old Department of Human Services and other child-service agencies.

In December 2015, Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Chandler and elevated the post to cabinet level, stating that the welfare of the state’s children was his priority.

Lee’s six-page remedial order issued Thursday sets out specific goals for the state with deadlines to achieve them, especially focusing on reducing the number of children and families each social worker is responsible for and hiring more staff.

A July 15 deadline is set for determining if the state has met its obligations under the order.

“We have a clear path of things the state must accomplish,” Glassman said.

The state was sued in 2004 with a stipulated settlement on liability reached in 2007.

The final settlement mandates a top-to-bottom rebuilding of Mississippi’s child welfare system and requires the state to meet its constitutional and statutory obligations to serve and protect the state’s abused and neglected children in state foster care.