Image Credit: Office of The Tennessee Comptroller
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
In December 2022, the Comptroller’s Office released the second of two audits in two years. This audit makes it clear to state lawmakers that DCS has a long history of failures. Since the time the Department of Children’s Services was created in 1996, DCS has faced recurring issues that management has struggled to address.
Over the years, the financial and performance audits of DCS have highlighted the following recurring issues:
Strategic plan and risk assessment
• Tracking of child placements
• Child protective services investigations
• Case management and computer systems
• Vacancies and turnover
• Caseloads and monthly contact with children
• Background checks
Sources who have decades of experience with the workings of the agency, pose this question:
“If DCS, created in 1996, has not yet learned how to keep children safe and track their care, why does the General Assembly continue to fund them?”
The agency comes to the General Assembly every year and asks for another fifty million dollars, but this year, new Commissioner Margie Quin sought a landmark increase in a single year of $156 million. Tennessee taxpayers already fund this administrative failure to the tune of a billion dollars annually.
Commissioner Quinn stated in the recent committee meeting that the systems now used by DCS were “built to service children twenty years ago” and “change doesn’t happen overnight.” But history shows that DCS has had twenty years of “overnights” to remedy a beleaguered bureaucratic agency that has repeatedly failed to serve the interests of children.
In 2000, just four years after its inception, a class action lawsuit (Brian A.) was filed against then-commissioner George Hattaway (under Governor Sunquist) which alleged that DCS was violating the rights of children under the Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Adoption Assistance Act. The detailed claims in this lawsuit described financial mismanagement, an inadequate information system, inadequacy of working with parents to secure needed services for the safe return of their children, racial bias, failure to provide foster children with basic services, failure to provide assessments and case plans, overmedication of children in state’s custody, and a host of other maladies that ring familiar with the last two audits of the agency.
Commissioner Hattaway left the agency in 2002 and this debacle was turned over to Page Walley to serve as commissioner for only a few short months. Page Walley is now the Senator for State District 26 and a member of the joint committee that held the hearing on December 14th.
The agency was subject to a motion for contempt in the federal district in 2003 which resulted in a Settlement Agreement requiring DCS to meet a host of requirements. DCS assured the district court that the issues would be resolved in a “couple of years.” Instead, they remained under supervision of the Court until 2019 when DCS was finally released from the suit.
Under the settlement agreement in Brian A, DCS was required to create a “technical assistance committee” (TAC) and an “external accountability reporting center” (the “Center”). The agreement required that after the termination of the court’s jurisdiction, the Center “will begin its public reporting which shall include, at a minimum, semi-annual reports on DCS performance under the terms of this agreement.” However, the last published report from this accountability center is 2018.
Either the TAC has completely ignored the ongoing problems with DCS or the agency has ignored their ongoing obligation to comply with the settlement agreement after the dismissal of the lawsuit.
DCS works in cooperation with a vast array of resources and professionals, some funded through additional state taxpayer funds, federal grants, and private donations. These include the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), the Council on Children’s Mental Health, the Resource Mapping Project, the 2011 Second Look Committee, the Tennessee Juvenile Justice Commission, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Tennessee Juvenile Court Services Association, Friends of Juvenile Court, Tennessee Children’s Advocacy Centers, Citizen’s Review Committee, Foster Care Review Boards, and a minimum of 85 private contractor providers.
TCCY alone received a $943k federal grant for 2022 to develop more effective education, training, prevention and treatment programs and justice system improvement efforts. Many of these juvenile delinquents end up in the legal custody of the State.
However, not a single commission, non-profit, or private contractor was present on December 14th to face questions from the General Assembly on how a system so surrounded with professionals, funds, and for-profit contractors could fail children so miserably.
Watch for our follow up story – Tennessee DCS – Are Lawmakers Asking The Right Questions?
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.