- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told social workers and others at a conference Friday that his administration is committed to improving the troubled foster-care system.

The state is putting an additional $34 million into the system for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers allocated the money to avoid a federal court takeover because of a long-running lawsuit, which said the state had done too little to protect foster children from abuse.

At Bryant’s request, legislators also passed Senate Bill 2179 (https://bit.ly/1s18eup ), to establish a Department of Child Protection Services that will be separate from the Department of Human Services. The move is designed to direct more money and attention on foster care.

Speaking to more than 200 people at a children’s mental health conference sponsored by the nonprofit Mississippi Children’s Home Services, Republican Bryant said praised David Chandler, who left the state Supreme Court several months ago to lead Child Protection Services.

“We’ve given him the opportunity to reform that agency, to make sure that no child is neglected or left behind because of someone is employed by the state of Mississippi for the purpose of taking care of that child,” Bryant said.

Salaries for social workers could increase, and the state will hire more of them, the governor said. Chandler will have the power to hire and fire employees who work in foster care.

“If you’re not dedicated, if you’re not getting that job done, perhaps you need to seek something else because this job’s too important to have someone who doesn’t care,” Bryant said. Several in the audience nodded.

Chandler said improving conditions for foster children will take help from churches and others.

“This isn’t a department problem,” Chandler said. “It’s a community problem.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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