Mississippi receives highly competitive child welfare grant

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The Family Resource Center of North Mississippi has received one of only nine federal child welfare grants awarded for 2019 by the Administration of Children and Families. More than 150 applicants from 50 states competed for the 5-year federal grant and cooperative support program.

The $2.7 million Community Collaborations to Strengthen and Preserve Families grant will be implemented in collaboration with the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and a network of local community providers. The federal Children’s Bureau will also provide on-site support, programmatic guidance and technical assistance to the Mississippi project, created to demonstrate how engaging at-risk families and connecting them with community-based primary prevention programs improves child safety and well-being – and resolves family issues before they escalate, families are disrupted and children are placed into state custody for their protection.

The five-year project will target at-risk families and children living in Lee County. Federal officials plan to highlight the Mississippi project – and lessons learned during implementation — as a model for other states to replicate.

“For MDCPS to be able to refer our clients to receive in-home and community-based services from the Family Resource Center means that we can, more often than not, avoid removing a child from their home. That is because we work in partnership to address and resolve issues that threaten a family’s stability before problems worsen,” said MDCPS Commissioner Jess Dickinson.

“Knowing that a community has these resources available for our workers to utilize strengthen the family-building work we do every day – and underpins our ‘Safe at Home’ mission.”

In October 2019, MDCPS had 157 children in custody in Lee County and was also supervising about 50 in-home cases. The overwhelming majority of cases in Lee County involve physical neglect, an issue that the Family First project should be able to help MDCPS address.

Jerry Milner, associate commissioner of the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau, praised Mississippi’s Family Resource Center and other grant recipients this week for their groundbreaking initiatives and innovative ideas for addressing primary prevention of child abuse. He emphasized that the competition for the limited discretionary federal funds was “absolutely incredible.”

“This really is a very, very critical set of grants for us. This is our best opportunity out there to demonstrate to the country that we can actually do this and show that primary prevention can make a huge difference in the lives of children and their families,” Milner said, adding that he anticipates the result of this grant award to “change the trajectory of our current child welfare system. “I cannot overstate how high our expectations are of you…These projects are in direct contrast to a reactive, after-the-fact system of child welfare that we currently operate in our country.”

Milner said the federal Children’s Bureau will form an “active and substantive partnership” with the Mississippi project and pledged that his profession staff will “invest a tremendous amount of effort to make sure you have what you need to help us move this community collaboration of primary prevention forward and to then scale it throughout the country.”

Christi Webb, executive director of the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, said this grant project will “allow us to amplify our efforts and make a significant impact to improve the lives of many families.”

“The role that the Family Resource Center plays in the social services network in Lee County has always been to help where we can and to refer families to other agencies when we are not able to meet a specific need,” she added, emphasizing the cooperative network aspect of the organization’s work.

After a 10-month community assessment and planning period, the project team will begin to work directly with families and children, connecting them with necessary services, resources, training and skills development activities designed to improve family stability and reduce the likelihood of involvement with the State’s Child Welfare System. This program was funded by the Children’s Bureau, an office of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Grant activities will be evaluated by The Stephen Group, a New Hampshire-based consulting firm which has worked with MDCPS and other Mississippi health and human service providers

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