Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Children’s Services / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
The release by the Tennessee Comptroller of a damning audit of DCS prompted lawmakers to vote to allow the department to remain in existence for the span of one year while improvements are made under new Commissioner Margie Quin. A state legislative oversight committee voted Wednesday to require the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to submit reports every quarter for the upcoming year.
Some of the findings from the audit that spanned two years (August 1st 2020 – August 31st 2022) include:
• Children left in unsafe situations because of a lack of response by DCS to sexual abuse, sexual harassment or neglect allegations especially in residential facilities
• Vacancy rate for caseworkers of 22%
• Outdated systems meant to track medical and dental visits of children in state custody
• Case managers with caseloads that exceed the state’s maximum
• Crisis-level shortages of long-term placements
• Faulty background check process for DCS employees and volunteers
The report states:
When children are unable to safely stay in their own homes, DCS is responsible to provide placements that meet the children’s emotional, physical, and social needs. The lack of available foster homes, rather than the needs of foster children, continues to present serious challenges to DCS’s ability to make placement decisions. Case managers must find temporary placement locations such as state office buildings or transitional houses for extended durations. Additionally, DCS employees struggle to make quick placement decisions (for either long-term or temporary placements) because the case management system is not designed to capture child placement data and placement availability resulting in negative impacts on both children and department employees. The Commissioner must expedite efforts to retain placements and to expand the placement network. Management should continue to explore better alternatives to office buildings for temporary placements and set standards for consistent quality of facilities for temporary placements so case managers can efficiently place children in safe settings that meet their needs.
But Tennessee has yet to implement strategies contained in the federal “Family First Act” which would save taxpayers money and reduce the trauma of family separation. The 2018 Family First Preservation and Services Act requires states to provide 12-months of in-home services for non-emergency family support needs. The law also provides a new funding apparatus for kinship care which allows children to go to a family member instead of into foster care.
One of the more alarming findings of the audit is the report of 34 allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment of children in state custody within residential facilities that DCS did not investigate.
Of these allegations, 28 occurred “at a facility that did not primarily house juvenile delinquents” or the allegation involved sexual abuse or harassment between two children ages 13 to 17 and DCS “chose to refer the allegation to law enforcement rather than investigate.” The remaining allegations were missed due to staff oversight or other clerical errors.
While DCS referred these allegations to law enforcement, no referrals were tracked or followed up on by the department.
In addition, DCS failed to investigate staff at residential facilities over a lack of supervision regarding 37 reports of potential sexual activity between children in state custody. DCS chose to overlook the reports and not investigate.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.