Image Credit: Gov. Bill Lee / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
As the Department of Children’s Services faces a housing crisis for children in state custody, Governor Bill Lee claims that he wants to find a solution to the problem, although calling a special session of the State Legislature is not currently an option.
After last week’s budget hearings, Lee told reporters that caseworkers’ salaries needed to be increased and the department needed additional staff to help reduce the current workload.
“We’re also looking at short-term solutions with privatization of those providing services. We need to do better by those kids, and we’re going to,” Lee stated.
DCS Commissioner Margie Quin requested $156 million in additional funding last week and told those in attendance that children were being forced to sleep in offices or being sent to hospitals for extended periods of time because the state did not have any other options for housing them.
She also noted that many private facilities who could care for Tennessee children were taking other children from out of state because those states were willing to pay more.
While Lee weighs options regarding how to deal with the housing shortage, Democrats want him to move to more immediate action.
State Senator Heidi Campbell and State Representative Gloria Johnson sent a letter to the governor on Monday demanding that he take action. The letter stated that, while the funding for next year’s fiscal year is necessary, it was also imperative that additional measures be taken to ensure that children are kept safe for the next seven months as well.
Campbell stated that this has been an issue for many years but that the Legislature has failed to place emphasis on finding a solution to the problem.
“For our state to ignore the needs of children in our custody the same year that we have enacted a policy that required women to give birth, with no exceptions, is simply cruel,” the letter reads. “We currently have billions in reserve, and our negligence is indefensible. We respectfully request that you provide interventional remediation immediately for the sake of our children.”
Lee has acknowledged that a major obstacle for the department is an “enormous workforce issue” and a lack of caseworkers to be hired or kept within the department. He expects a majority of the funding to be used to hire caseworkers.
Quin says the high turnover comes from high caseloads and extremely stressful working conditions. There are currently 486 vacancies in the department across the state, and most recently, nearly half of beginning caseworkers quit within the first year.
Recent reports show that DCS is overwhelmed by the current caseload of children being placed into state custody. The letter from Campbell and Johnson highlights the recent death of a toddler at Brookmeade Park as one of “many tragic outcomes” that has occurred because the state was unable to properly care for children.
23-month-old Ariel Rose died on November 11 while at a transitional housing facility. The cause of her death is still being investigated.
Her grandfather and uncle have spoken out against DCS, saying they are irresponsible, neglectful, and careless. They believe the department did not do enough to help the little girl after family members reported her parents as drug addicts.
Representative Johnson told Fox 17 News, “It’s tragic, it’s horrifying, and quite frankly, it’s unnecessary. This was a preventable problem.”
Lee says they have some leads to speed up the process and hopefully find more housing options, using funding from the current budget if necessary.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com