New director named for DHS child services

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A new director will head family and children’s services for the Mississippi Department of Human Services as a condition of a recent settlement ending a federal lawsuit against the state’s foster-care system.

Kate McMillin, a former official with the Jackson-based Mississippi Forum on Children and Families, will replace Rickie Felder as director of the Division of Family and Children Services, DHS executive director Don Taylor said Monday.

Under the Jan. 4 settlement, the director of Family and Children Services is required to have an advanced degree in a field related to the agency’s mission and services and at least five years of related experience.

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McMillin has a masters degree in social work, and she has practiced in the field, Taylor said.

Felder, named to the children’s services post in 2005, didn’t meet the qualifications to remain in the position, according to officials of New York-based Children’s Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of children in foster care.

The 2004 lawsuit alleged case workers were poorly trained and overworked and that the state had a shortage of safe foster homes. Some of the state’s 3,500 foster children have been sexually abused and denied adequate medical care, the lawsuit said. The Division of Family and Children Services oversees the foster care system.

The settlement, estimated to cost the state $34 million, requires the division hire more case workers and limit their workloads to 14 cases at a time. Mississippi also must increase its hiring standards and enhance medical and educational services for foster children in the state’s custody.