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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
The failing Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) continues to put their hand out for more taxpayer dollars.
The agency has a long history of coming to Tennessee lawmakers every year to ask for another $50 million dollars, but at the end of 2022, Commissioner Margie Quin sought a landmark increase in a single year of $156 million to supplement the more than $1 billion annual budget.
Quin said last year that the additional funds were needed to increase the salaries of case workers with $15.4 million of the sum earmarked for this purpose. In that committee meeting Quinn stated that the systems used by DCS were “built to service children twenty years ago” and “change doesn’t happen overnight.”
As we reported last year, the statistics on population growth in the state and on child outcomes belie the need for an ever increasing budget.
Nevertheless, DCS leaders are back for the second year in a row to ask for another significant increase in the budget. This year, the request is for an additional $182 million that Quin says will be used to pay foster parents and adoptive parents more and to provide bigger payments to providers of residential treatment facilities.
DCS officials who met with Governor Bill Lee last week said that there has been a nearly 20% increase in the number of children entering the state’s care with special needs. This cohort of children needing specialized care at inpatient facilities is also staying longer than in years past, by an average of two months.
At the same time, the number of foster homes is declining and those that are left find themselves unable to care for children who have significant psychiatric or healthcare needs.
Executive Director of Network Development/Provider Relations for DCS Frank Mix admitted that staffing issues continue to be a problem and leads to some children not being able to be discharged out of state custody in a timely fashion.
At the end of last year, the Comptroller’s Office released the second of two audits in two years that documented a long history of failures by DCS.
Since the department was created in 1996, several recurring issues have failed to be addressed. These include strategic plan and risk assessment, placements, tracking of placements, child protective services investigations, case management, staff turnover, staff vacancies, number of caseloads and inadequate monthly contact with children, and background checks.
Another audit at the beginning of this year showed that children were having to sleep in DCS office buildings for lack of placements. Media attention surrounding this appalling situation as well as the abuse of children in state care at institutions contracting with DCS led to the Tennessee General Assembly approving $27 million of emergency funds to provide for more beds.
As we have reported before, Tennessee lawmakers continue to throw money at DCS – with its new slogan of “Children First!” – in an effort to fix its woes instead of focusing on keeping families together in the first place.
In February 2018, the Family First Preservation and Service Act of 2018 (Family First Act) was passed by Congress providing a shift in the administration of Title IV-E funding. Instead of requiring child removal before federal funds can be collected, Family First allows for families to stay together and receive services. This major change in federal funding would benefit children and their families and save Tennessee taxpayers money but the state has yet to adopt a Family First program.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.