DHS to use region to test new model

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – More than 60 advocates for children turned out Wednesday to help the Mississippi Department of Human Services build a better safety net for children and families.
“We have to change,” Tracy Malone, regional director for the Department of Human Services, said as she described a team-based approach that pulls community resources around children and their families.
“The way cancer was treated 20 years ago is not the way we treat cancer now.”
The Department of Human Services is reaching out to all the community groups and agencies that come into contact with children – law enforcement, schools, nonprofit agencies, emergency shelters and foster and adoptive parents – as it works to create and implement a new practice model.
“We’re not an island,” Malone said. “We need to involve communities.”
The new practice model focuses on individualized case planning, getting services to children and families quickly, and helping children maintain connections to their families whenever possible.
The model and the department’s work to seek national accreditation are part of a 2007 settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of children in the foster care system.
“Mississippi is en route to becoming a model state. We’re farther ahead after two years than some places are after 20,” said Mark Smith, the executive director of the Department of Human Services.
The seven-county Region I South – Calhoun, Itawamba, Lafayette, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc, Chickasaw and Union counties – was selected as one of the first two areas to put the new model into place.
A local team has been working on the plans since January. Implementation is set to start in July.
Goals include individualized plans for children and families, better recruiting and retention of foster and adoptive families, getting children and families involved in decision-making with social workers, and finding ways to fill gaps in services needed by children in foster care.

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.