Image Credit: Margie Quin / Twitter
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Last week State Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville-District 20) called for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly in an effort to appropriate more taxpayer money for the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) ahead of the budget adjustment for the next fiscal year, which does not come into effect until July 1, 2023.
Campbell’s request is in response to reports that DCS is facing a housing crisis for children in state custody. Last week, DCS Commissioner Margie Quin said that children have been forced to sleep on the office floors of the agency in Davidson County and in some cases, when children have proven too “disruptive” for social workers to handle, have been sent to hospitals for up to 100 days at a time because the state has exhausted all other options for housing them.
This isn’t the first time this year that a request for more money for DCS has been made. During an ad hoc committee hearing held at the end of August and headed by Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson-District 78), Republican Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Irwin of Knox County reported that DCS had not provided enough foster homes in his court’s jurisdiction and told Littleton to “throw money at it.”
Irwin has served as Juvenile court Judge since 2005 and is currently President of the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. “Throw money at it,” he said to Littleton, who has chaired the Children & Families Affairs Subcommittee of the General Assembly since 2019. “Lots of it.”
Quin has asked for an increase of $156 million dollars to the $1 billion plus annual budget for DCS with $15.4 million of that money going to increase the salaries of case workers.
Over the last five years, the head of the agency has come to the General Assembly every year and asked for an average of another $50 million dollars. The budget reached its current $1 billion plus last year under ex-Commissioner Jennifer Nichols.
The statistics on population growth in the state and on child outcomes belie the need for this burgeoning budget.
Tennessee’s population grew by 9.8% from 2010 to 2021 – from 6.3 million to 6.9 million. However, the number of children subject to involvement with a child welfare agency in Tennessee has decreased according to statistics derived from the Department of Health and Human Services and the national data bank Kids Count which is supported by the Anne E. Casey Foundation.
These statistics show that from 2016 to 2020 child maltreatment victims decreased from 9,685 to 8,687. During this same time children in foster care only slightly increased from 8,333 to 8,839. Tennessee children living in poverty (most often the cause of child removal) decreased dramatically from 121,000 to 90,000.
In ten years the agency has dropped nearly a thousand employees while watching the payroll increase by $30,000,000. Over the same period the operational expenses of the agency increased by $311 million.
DCS is largely operated with the use of for-profit private agencies such as Omni Visions and Youth Villages who provide foster care and case management. Payments to Youth Villages in 2016 show that they received about $66 million that year and in 2021 they received $83 million. Payments to Omni Visions (a company owned by former DCS commissioner Jim Henry) has increased from $56 million in 2016 to $61 million in 2021.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.