Tennessee Department of Children's Services

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.”

New data released by the Tennessee Department of Health show that one-third of child fatalities in the state in 2011 could have been prevented. The list of preventable deaths includes those children that died by abuse, murder, drowning, suicide, and suffocation.

The Volunteer State’s annual report on child mortality comes at a sensitive time, as state lawmakers are scrutinizing the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services for its role in investigating child abuse cases where the child later died.

The Tennessean reports children are more likely to die in the state before they reach their 18th birthday than in most other states, surpassing the national average of 52 deaths for every 100,000 children.

Still, Tennessee health officials also noted the 802 children who died in 2011 represent the lowest number of youth deaths reported in the state in five years.

The interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency remains unable to give an accounting of how many children died while under its care. The DCS has been the focus of scrutiny for months over how it kept records in the cases of children who later died.

More than 200 Tennessee children lost their lives or nearly died since 2009 after having some contact with the agency. The DCS has refused to release records related to the cases of the children who died, which led to a lawsuit by several media organizations.

In an interview with The Tennessean, Department of Children’s Services interim commissioner Jim Henry said the $27 million computer system the DCS has used to track children under its care appears to be improving. Henry has said he has full confidence that agency staff will make fixes.

Former DCS commissioner Kate O’Day stepped down earlier this month after the agency came under intense criticism from lawmakers and Governor Bill Haslam.

The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has resigned amid scrutiny of how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced in a news release Tuesday that Kate O’Day had decided to resign because of concerns that she had become the focus of attention rather than the children the agency is meant to serve.

Haslam last week defended O’Day’s leadership, even after the agency told a federal judge it couldn’t say with any certainty how many children died while in its custody.

DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 150 children who died after the state launched abuse or neglect investigations.

Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal would increase funding for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which has come under fire recently for refusing to turn over records in the cases of child deaths. Haslam’s spending plan would boost DCS funding by nearly $7 million--money The Tennessean reports would be used to hire 62 more caseworkers and investigators, while boosting pay for those already on staff.

Tennessee lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings into why more than 70 children died last year after having some contact with the department. A group of media outlets in the Volunteer State is suing the DCS for refusing to make public agency documents concerning child deaths.

Last week, A Davidson County Chancery Court Judge ruled the DCS must provide more information regarding the causes of death, the department’s prior involvement with the children, and the results of prior contact provided to those who later died.

A Tennessee judge has ruled that the state’s Department of Children’s Services must make public more information about the deaths of young people known to the agency.

A group of Tennessee media outlets, led by The Tennessean newspaper, filed suit against the Department of Children’s Services, alleging the department violated the law by refusing to provide records concerning children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention. At first, the DCS said it would make more records available, but then cited state and federal confidentiality laws as a reason to withhold the documents.

Two high-ranking Tennessee Republicans, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, recently announced they would seek legislative hearings into DCS practices.

The media outlets seek records related to 31 Tennessee children who died in the first half of 2012, as well as the cases of 206 young people involved in fatal or near-fatal incidents dating back to 2009.

Two high-ranking Republicans say they’ll hold legislative meetings to examine the state’s troubled Department of Children’s Services. The Tennessean reports House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan to announce meetings to be held later this month when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in Nashville.

The DCS has come under intense criticism recently for refusing to share details about the cases of 31 children who died in the first six months of 2012. Those 31 children had previously been brought to the attention of the DCS, leading to questions about whether more could have been done to place the children in a safer environment.

Democratic Rep. Mike Turner has previously called for a legislative investigation into how DCS protects vulnerable young people in the Volunteer state.  The New-York based group Children's Rights is also pressing Tennessee to get the DCS to release case records.

A national advocacy organization is asking a federal judge to force the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to hand over child death records. The New York-based Children’s Rights first sued the Volunteer State in 2000 over youth safety concerns.

Children’s Rights has filed a new motion in federal court saying two children died inside the same Tennessee foster home within six months, and that the response to the incidents by the Department of Children’s Services raised, what it called, “serious concerns.”

The Tennessean reports the New York group wants the DCS to provide child fatality records for children who died in 2011 and 2012 and who had prior contact with the department. There has been no formal response by DCS to the federal motion.

The department in the past has said it will provide records before ultimately deciding it was against releasing case records due to confidentiality concerns. The court filing by Children’s Rights says the few internal records and summaries filed by DCS in December made it “impossible to determine what transpired in those cases.”

Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner is calling for a special meeting to investigate the Department of Children's Services' refusal to release records related to the abuse and death of children under its care.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner is calling for a special meeting to investigate the Department of Children's Services' refusal to release records related to the abuse and death of children under its care.

Turner sent the request for the joint government operations committee to Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, all Republicans.

The Tennessean newspaper and a group of Tennessee news organizations, including The Associated Press, have asked a judge to open records from the department.

Tennessee Fights Transparency for Child Welfare

Jan 8, 2013

As some states move toward greater transparency when children under state supervision die, Tennessee is holding fast to its policy of blocking public access to case files.

A coalition of news organizations led by The Tennessean newspaper and including The Associated Press has sued to force Tennessee to release case records of children who died after the Department of Children's Services investigated reports of abuse or neglect.

The lawsuit uses Tennessee's public records law and argues it's in the public interest to know what steps the agency took to protect the children.

Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services is coming under fire for not being able to provide information on deaths involving children in state custody. State Represenatative Sherry Jones says she’s been waiting more than two months for the data.