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Released August 23, 2005


Hattiesburg– The University of Southern Mississippi will lead an institute that will use more than $2.5 million in grant funding to improve the quality of Mississippi’s child welfare services.

The Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Institute is charged with educating and training child welfare workers and university students who plan to work in the field, as well as others who serve at-risk children, such as foster parents and adoptive parents, said Dr. Mike Forster, director of the Southern Miss School of Social Work.

Funding for the institute, which is supported by a consortium of state universities, comes from the Mississippi Department of Human Services through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“This institute will help prepare qualified social workers to go to work in the (state) department (of human services) and train those already in the department,” Forster said. “It’s a comprehensive vision for training all of these people who are vital to the system.”

The institute will also boost the Southern Miss School of Social Work’s curriculum by adding classes focusing on child welfare issues. Institute funding also helps the school acquire new staff members like Lori Woodruff, who worked for 18 years in Child Protection Service for DHS prior to joining the School of Social Work as its director of Child Welfare Services.

“This institute will bring together foster parents, university personnel and social workers to promote positive interaction and problem solving for the betterment of the children receiving services,” Woodruff said. “You have to raise skill levels to do a better job for the children.”

Students studying to be social workers at one of the consortium schools can benefit by making a commitment to work at least one year for the State Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division following graduation. In return, the student would receive a generous package of tuition support, as well as a stipend that would be paid while the student completed an internship with a state human service agency.

Other universities in the consortium with Southern Miss include social work programs at the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University (Starkville and Meridian campuses), Delta State University, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.

The goals of the institute are in line with efforts in all other states to meet federal requirements to modify or improve their child welfare service delivery system. “Mississippi has many challenges (in delivering child welfare services), so partnering with state agencies and universities is critical,” Forster said. “In order to cover the entire state, the consortium is a key element to reaching our goals.”

One of social work’s primary missions - serving at-risk children – Forster said, makes the partnership with the institute a natural fit. “This institute will help strengthen that mission.”

For more information about the Southern Miss School of Social Work and opportunities through its undergraduate and graduate degree programs, call (601) 266-4163.


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October 14, 2005 2:30 PM