Tennessee DCS – A History of Failures
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 thoughts on “Tennessee DCS – A History of Failures”
That’s nothing new with Bloated unaccountable Government Agencies. A lot need to be Fired in all departments to do their jobs or be gone!
Like all authoritive agencies in government, DCS goes from one extreme to another. On the one hand they can’t keep track of the placement they have, can’t maintain follow-ups, have children being abused and mistreated under their watch and yet, let someone call in because they don’t like the one some parent is raising their child and the agency goes hog wild, faces in front of the cameras and patting themselves on the back. If the child is taken with some research into the family situation, that child is instantly lost in the labyrinth of mismanagement. The public cannot get any information as to what was done with that child, the claim is, their protecting the child, because their covering their own butts. Two or three days after the incident, it’s debatable if they even know where that child is. We need an efficient, accountable DCS and it’s not going to happen until this one is dismantled and a new one built from the ground up. Sometimes it’s just too expensive to save the house. Better to tear it down and build a better one.
Too many EXPERTS with only what they learned in higher education establishments have ruined our schools, government agencies, and most of all the future generations.
Good article but missing a few points, which of course cannot be covered in a few paragraphs. One thing the mainstream media continues to miss in covering DCS is the negative influence the Brian A lawsuit has had on the department. The lawsuit was brought forward by Child Rights Incorporated. (somestimes they go under Children’s Rights Inc.) While this organization pretended to be for the child, they are essentially a shake down organization that goes from state-to-state bringing litigation against human and child services. These are easy targets since most states, particularly Tennessee have mismanaged child services departments. Also, DCS lawyers are used to bullying unwed and poverty-stricken mothers, not killer attorneys. Basically, if a department caves in, like Tennessee DCS, the taxpayers have to pay legal fees in addition to paying CRI consulting fees. If a department does not cave in, like Oklahoma’s version of DCS, CRI tries to sock them for $800 an hour attorney’s fee. Google CRI and form your own opinion.
Another failure was under the reign of Viola Miller that contracted with Dynamic Resource Corporation for a data management system known as TFACTS. This was essentially the same system in Ohio that was known to be badly performing. How a defective system in one state was supposed to work under a different state is beyond comprehension. Long story short, after spending north of $125,000,000, DCS is finally admitting the system is a failure. The rank and file have been trying to tell upper management of the system failure for over a decade.
The utter failure of DCS from day one would make a hellava dissertation for a poly sci or sociological doctoral student, or at least a case study for MBA students.
If we have a system that can’t keep up with children, why are we still using it? If we can’t keep up with employees, why are we still using the system?.
Money isn’t the answer. People are the problem, not lack of money. I understand this is a very difficult situation, but someone has got to tell the truth and stop blaming. These children are the ones suffering. I watched the talk with the new director and Gov. Lee. All I saw was mouths moving. Oh, and needing more money.
I just did the math using Tennessee DCS figures. The budget is roughly a billion per year, and at any given time, there is roughly 8,500 children in custody. So, I am coming up with roughly $117,647 per year, per child. Most DCS children are covered by TN Care, or private insurance, so this brings us back to the primary question? Where is the money going?
Let me ask a few more questions: Why does DCS need roughly 10 layers of management? Couldn’t some of that money be better used to increase starting salaries? Does there need to be that many meeting held? Could some of the paperwork be reduced?
My comment is towards another comment or Tony and I mostly agree with everything he comments on these articles but I do not agree with his outlook on the Brian A. lawsuit and settlement. I testified in a deposition for Children’s Rights Inc in 2000 when I and approximately 80 kids were used as lab rats for drug trials and refused care of a doctor not affiliated with a pharmaceutical company. Not only the mass drugging of pharmaceuticals on us kids age ranging from 5-17 but the horrible side effects that came along with those. It was normal for us to have a med line 4 maybe 5 times a day. The normalization of prescription changes, and the effects of the next day and week after were business as usual for the staff, and was commonly joked about. some meds had the kids completely catatonic and drooling with her head down in class every day and some meds had the kids invincible and with superhuman strength. Then add the first line of de-escalation practices being five point restraints and or thrown against a carpeted restraint room built into the hallway. where some children would stay at for 5/6 hours at a time. They would comment that they would need restrained long enough for the medicine to wear off and then they would call a doctor to sign off on the restraint, but it wasn’t a doctor. It was a doctor with the polo with Pharma logo on it. Looking back I feel their notes were taking mostly for research and development purposes because the questions they would ask would be. When did they start this medicine? How long have they been on it? Is this the first side effect noted etc. etc. I say all this to say that children’s rights is the one that pulled many of us out of that facility and gave us a voice to tell what we endured day after day for years. within six months of my deposition I was placed out of that facility of horrors and into a foster home, then not long after I left, they eventually shut Haslam 1 &2 down for good. It’s just unfortunate that it took two deaths of adolescents to force their hand to close it down. I see Ralph’s point in that they charge a lot of money but at the time whatever it took to get us out of that trauma filled facility. I still have lasting effects from the pharmaceuticals and habitual habit of taking meds 4 times a day for six years.