To deal with that growing caseload, during the 2018 legislative session, the new agency is requesting $113.2 million in state funding, an increase of $15 million from what it received in the 2017 session, said Executive Director Jess Dickinson.
The agency was split from the Department of Human Services during the 2016 legislative session in an effort to deal with problems in the state’s foster care system that resulted in a federal lawsuit.
The additional money, Dickinson said, would be used to hire 108 new staff, including 60 new positions to staff around the clock a “child abuse/neglect/exploitation reporting and investigating hotline.”
The additional money also will be used to increase social work staffing to stay within the guidelines of the agreement reached in December 2016 in the federal lawsuit. He said the December 2016 agreement in the federal lawsuit was made possible because of the Legislature’s decision to make Child Protection Services a stand alone agency and to increase funding to the agency.
It 2016, the Legislature provided $34 million in additional funding for the state’s efforts to take care of abused and neglected children.
Dickinson said in 2013 the state had a caseload of about 2,900 abused and neglected children. That number had grown to more than 6,000 as of this summer.
“Most of the increase is due to drugs,” he told legislative leaders.
In a news release, he said, “Sadly, with the rampant drug epidemic we are experiencing, that number grows every year. Our budget request reflects the importance of providing protection to these vulnerable children. We feel confident that with adequate funding and hard work, we can achieve a level of protection for these children that not only will make us a leader in child protection, but also will allow us to exit the federal court….litigation that has been pending since 2004.”
Dickinson also told legislative leaders that his agency, in finalizing its break with Human Services, needs to find its own office space.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told Dickinson he believes many state agencies have more office space than they need. Dickinson said, “We are not looking for premium office space,” but just a space to adequately do their job.
Dickinson is the second executive director of the young agency. He succeeds David Chandler, who for a time was an attorney in Tupelo. Chandler retired earlier this summer.