/Head of embattled child protection agency resigns

Head of embattled child protection agency resigns

2017 Governor. Phil Bryant selected Dickinson, an ex-state Supreme Court justice, as the successor to retiring commissioner David Chandler. Chandler was the original person to head the agency. It was created by the Legislature as a condition of Olivia Y. in 2004, which completely remade Mississippi’s child welfare system. “I commend Justice Jess Dickinson’s two and a half years of service in the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services. CPS has seen significant improvements under his leadership. For example, CPS implemented measures to keep the families intact as safely as possible, reducing the number children in foster care by almost 2000. Bryant tweeted Tuesday afternoon that CPS had more than doubled its annual adoptions. Dickinson was at Child Protection Services from July 2017 to July 2017. The agency drastically reduced the number foster children, which stood at over 6,100 at the peak. It now stands at less than 4,400. The adoptions increased more than twice, from just under 300 in 2017 and to 657 by 2019. The specter of Olivia Y., in which six children from Mississippi’s foster care system sued Dickinson for neglecting their families, cast a long shadow on Dickinson’s tenure at the agency. Due to the state’s inability to fulfill its demands, one part of the settlement agreement requires that the agency drastically reduce the caseloads for its front-line staff who work directly with children and families. This has been revised three times. Although the agency was able to reduce these numbers, it still failed to meet the standards of the lawsuit. Marcia Lowry, plaintiff’s attorney, requested Bryant to replace Dickinson in 2018, frustrated at the failure of the administration to create a plan that would address the court’s concerns. Lowry argued that the leader was lacking a clear vision and strategy. The plaintiffs filed a motion against Bryant to declare the state in contempt after he refused to comply with their request. This motion is still pending. Lowry stated that the agency has been disorganized and run poorly for a long time. He also said that it has not been in compliance to any consent decrees issued by the state. “But, we felt that the Chandler-led agency was making an effort to comply. “We don’t feel this now.” Dickinson tried to provide staff incentives to stay, but was successful in lobbying legislators in late 2017. The introductory salary for new employees was raised from $26,000 to $32,000 by lawmakers in January 2018. According to a Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure review report, turnover rose to 30 percent in 2019. This is a nine percent increase on the previous year. In the same report, turnover rose to 15% in 2019, an increase of nine percent over 2018. Lowry stated last week that although it is a challenging job, high turnover was not the job’s nature. “People don’t stay with agencies that are being run poorly,” Lowry said last week. When asked about the rise in turnover despite the raise, the agency blamed last year’s salary hike, which was only for new hires, and demoralizing staff who didn’t get a raise. “Raising the starting pay had the unfortunate effect of putting new employees at the same level as their MDCPS peers, who are employed and have been working in the trenches for many years. This is the reason we are losing staff. “,” stated Lea Anne Brandon, Communications Director, in an email. The ongoing negative publicity around the Olivia Y. suit was also blamed for lowering employee morale. Brandon stated that MDCPS was further convinced by looking at turnover numbers over the past year and talking to frontline employees statewide that the negative effects of ongoing Olivia Y litigation – particularly the negative publicity caused by the most recent legal action/contempt order this spring – had dramatically lowered employee morale, and damaged the agency’s organizational health. Although the agency questioned the accuracy and reliability of the PEER report’s data, it did not provide any details. Child Protection Services provided the data used by PEER in its report. Brandon informed Mississippi Today last week about the increased turnover and said that the agency would seek an additional $13million appropriation from Congress in 2020 to increase salaries for staff members who have not received the previous raise. Dickinson has been a stooge during his two years of office. He asked for large appropriations often without warning. Dickinson shocked members of the Senate Appropriations Committee in January 2018 by announcing that the agency, with an annual budget of around $200 million, was facing $38 million of deficit. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), the then-Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, said that Dickinson had just announced that the agency was facing a $38 million deficit. Although Dickinson claimed that he knew of the problem months earlier, Clarke stated that it “just kind of blown them away.” “I’ve never witnessed something like this happen.” Legislators managed to reduce the appropriation to $12 million with help from the Department of Human Services. However, the stigma that Dickinson might not have been a good steward of state funds followed him into the 2019 session when lawmakers questioned him about a $26 million request to meet the Olivia Y. settlement requirements. The plaintiffs’ attorneys had been critical of Dickinson’s leadership and accused him of a lackluster organization and strategy. “I believe he hasn’t paid any attention to what he must accomplish to improve the child welfare program. Lowry stated on Tuesday that he believes he has a narrow view of the necessary requirements and has not succeeded in many of the requirements of a court order. “It’s discouraging, because Dickinson’s administration had ambitions to prioritise the child welfare system. That’s a tragedy.