Media organizations in Tennessee are balking at the amount the Department of Children’s Services is charging for copies of records related to DCS cases.
The media outlets have for months been seeking records for children with prior DCS contact who died or nearly died in the months leading up to July, 2012. After a judge ordered copies of 50 such cases to be handed over to journalists, the DCS tried to charge $9,000 for the records.
The Tennessean newspaper reports its attorney, Robb Harvey, has filed a complaint with the judge point out that the amount the DCS is seeking is nearly nine times what the judge had previously said was reasonable.
DCS attorneys say the extra costs are necessary so that paralegals can be hired and trained to review the case records that are being released to media.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services is reviewing its actions after a 17-year-old boy the agency was supervising gunned down a fellow high school student.
The Tennessean reports the teen was released from the DCS's Woodland Hills Development Center for delinquent youth in December. He was required to have regular monthly phone calls and visits with a caseworker, but at the time of the April 11 shooting no one at the agency had been able to make contact with him for nearly two months.
Interim DCS commissioner Jim Henry said he believes the agency acted appropriately but is assessing its actions. Henry said there was little in the teen's past to suggest he was capable of murder.
The teen is in juvenile detention awaiting a June 28 hearing.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has been ordered to provide media outlets with case files involving fatalities and near-fatalities of children under the group’s watch. A Davidson County judge say the DCS has until May 3 to turn over the initial batch of records being sought by Tennessee media organizations.
The Tennessean reports the state must provide the 50 most recent cases involving 2012 deaths and near-deaths of children under the supervision of the DCS. Initially, several media groups had sought 200 records.
Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy says the case files will include information on how and why a child may have died or suffered critical injuries. McCoy also greatly decreased the cost the state wanted to charge the media groups for copies of the files.
State lawyers had initially set the price tag at over $55,000. That has been decreased to a little over $1,000.
Tennessee is making progress in fixing problems with the computer system that is designed to track abused and neglected children. The $ 27 million system, known as the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System, or TFACTS—has been wracked with problems since it was introduced in 2010.
The Tennessean reports federal monitors filed papers this week detailing progress made by the Department of Children’s Services in getting those issues fixed.
The statewide computer system was supposed to be able to handle the majority of DCS cases, including suspicions of abuse and neglect, as well as adoption and foster care cases. But the system has been blamed for numerous problems, including a failure to produce reports regarding children who died while in agency custody and an inability to pay Tennessee foster parents.
DCS caseworkers say TFACTS is difficult to navigate and frequently kicks them out of the system halfway through writing reports.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is scheduled to update lawmakers on progress toward keeping track of child deaths. But Democrats say they don’t expect enough tough questions.
Two years ago, the legislature proudly abolished all of its joint committees as a way to cut $850,000 out of the budget. One of them had direct oversight of DCS – the select committee on children and youth.
Without this special panel, Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville says there are few experts on child abuse and foster care at the capitol.
“They don’t know how the department works. They don’t know what’s been going on, so they can ask a couple of minor questions, and then pat the commissioner on the back.”