National Council for Adoption honors Mississippi’s foster care progress

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. “Dr. Chandler is tasked with identifying and correcting weaknesses in the current system – and he is doing just that.”

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.

“When the Governor asked me to assume this role almost two years ago, I was handed the biggest challenge of my career. 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,” he said. “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.

ABOUT THE AWARD:

The Warren and Mary Alice Babineaux Award honors individuals and organizations that have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure children experience the love and stability that come with a forever family. The award is given to those who 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. The Warren and Mary Alice Babineaux Award acknowledges the dedicated efforts of those who have generously given their time, talents, and resources to ensure that all children can “come home” to a loving, forever family. The award is named for Adoption Hall of Fame recipients Warren and Mary Alice Babineaux who cared for more than 100 children in foster care during their decades-long tenure as foster and adoptive parents in Louisiana.

The inaugural Babineaux award was presented in 2015 to Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

ABOUT FOSTER CARE

According to the most recent report from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 427,910 children in U.S. foster care. Of these children, 111,820 are waiting to be adopted.

In Mississippi, there are currently 6,116 children in foster care in MDCPS custody. Of these children, 554 are in the waiting to be adopted. Of those, 388 are in the process of adoption and 166 are awaiting a forever family.

ABOUT DAVID A. CHANDLER

David Chandler was elected to an eight-year term on the state’s high court in 2008 but resigned the elected position in December 2015 to assume leadership of Mississippi’s child welfare 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.

Chandler’s appointment to the cabinet-level position and the creation of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services are both part of a federal court-ordered mandate to resolve lingering issues with Mississippi’s foster care system. In 2004, the Olivia Y foster care lawsuit was filed claiming that the state of Mississippi had failed to adequately protect children in the custody of its child welfare system. In December 2016 a new settlement agreement in the decade-old lawsuit was approved by the U.S. District Court establishing clear, obtainable objectives in reforming the state’s child welfare system. MDCPS was given a 12-month window in which to build capacity to delivery mandated improvements in foster care services.

A Kosciusko native, Chandler was reared in Weir. He earned his bachelor’s masters and doctoral degrees in education from Mississippi State University, a J.D. law degree from the University of Mississippi and a master of law in judicial process from the University of Virginia.

For almost 10 years, Chandler worked in Choctaw County public schools before becoming a research and curriculum specialist at MSU where he developed secondary and post-secondary workforce 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 before being elected to the state Supreme Court in 2008. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Mississippi College School of Law.