Mississippi Department of Human Services: ‘State of crisis to state of self-sufficiency’

Written by: Christopher Freeze – Guest Columnist

(Note: In July, Governor Phil Bryant appointed former FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze as the new Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.)

The Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) is committed to helping children and families transition from a state of crisis to a state of self-sufficiency. Our ability to accomplish this mission largely depends on three things: leadership, partnership, and stewardship.

Leadership: In his book, “The Speed of Trust,” Steven M. R. Covey writes, “Leadership is achieving results in a way that inspires trust.” MDHS has a significant impact on thousands of people’s lives; we work daily to deliver results in a way that builds trust among our clients, our employees, and the public.

This trust has a direct correlation to the customer service experience. While we have room for improvement, one of my goals as executive director is to ensure everyone receives a positive customer service experience.

Partnership: Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.” We see our mission at MDHS as making a positive difference in a child or family’s life.

Success, however, requires us to engage, communicate, and collaborate with other state agencies, such as the Departments of Child Protection Services, Health, Mental Health, Rehab Services, the Mississippi Development Authority, Community Colleges, and Medicaid, to name a few, as well as our federal partners and the many statewide non-profits.

In addition, we are seeking to build relationships within the faith-based community, the recovery community, and the juvenile justice community. For us to help Mississippians transition from a state of crisis, we must build a strong team of partners.

Stewardship:  Our promise is to use the taxpayers’ funds effectively and efficiently. MDHS is often able to match many of our state dollars with federal dollars, which allows us to help more Mississippians. We know we will be held accountable for how all funds are spent, so accountability permeates everything we do.

Our strategy focuses on our ability to demonstrate leadership, strengthen partnerships, and exhibit sound stewardship. Each of our divisions – Aging and Adult Services; Early Childhood Care and Development; Community Services; Economic Assistance; Child Support; Workforce Development; and Youth Services – utilize these three principles in stabilizing a family in crisis.

MDHS often helps families when poverty becomes overwhelming. To achieve stabilization and long-term success, we are building a framework centered around an intensive case management system that assesses each family’s needs, assists the family in acquiring the necessary resources, and creates a consolidated custom approach to alleviating those needs.

MDHS’s framework focuses on such fundamentals as:

  • Training for workforce preparation;
  • Technical skills for workforce development;
  • Connections for workforce placement;
  • Transportation to work;
  • Quality early childcare for parents who need to work and children who need a head-start in education.

Additionally, the framework is supported by programs that improve parenting skills, life skills, and workplace soft skills as well as programs that assist fathers with engaging in meaningful ways with their children.

We use a trauma-informed approach to serve our clients. Many struggles stem from multi-generational poverty, abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, and substance use disorder.

Consequently, these traumatic events have a direct correlation to events such as workplace violence, school violence, and the opioid epidemic. Each of these physical responses is a direct result of the emotional pain too many of our children and families face due to multi-generational struggles; providing hope through addressing fundamental human needs serves as a catalyst to reduce violence and increase access to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

MDHS is committed to working with our partners, being good stewards of our resources, and demonstrating leadership in the community as we help the most vulnerable in our society live healthy, fulfilling, and purposeful lives. What we do best is captured in our name; we are the Department of Human Services.

Christopher Freeze is the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and a retired Special Agent in Charge of the FBI.