The state of Tennessee has implemented the TNKids program, a computerized management system designed to help manage placements of children and caseloads on DCS workers. However, new DCS workers are not being trained on how to use this program, resulting in it not being used. Its widely considered to a good, promising program, but since no one knows how to use it, they dont.
DCS does not track medical/mental health treatments to assess the effectiveness of services and service providers.
After DCS was formed by combining staff from other departments, leadership positions were not allocated between employees coming from the previous divisions. Twenty-six of the 43 DCS leaders were formerly employed by the Department of Youth Development, while only five of the 43 came from the Department of Human Services. Conversely, two-thirds of the children in custody are dependent/neglected and previously would have been in the custody of DHS.
DCS caseworkers receive three weeks of job training. Foster parents receive 40 hours of training. However, CASA volunteers (who only report on the conditions the children are living in and make recommendations, but never have custody of the children) receive 30 hours of training.
The state is not complying with the John B. Consent Decree or with federal law by failing to ensure that all children in state custody receive EPSDTs (Early and Periodic Screenings, Diagnosis and Treatment).
One study found that nationally parental rights for African-American children were terminated at younger ages than those for white children, although African-American children as a whole were less emotionally disturbed than white children. This suggests that less patience on the part of the system in working with African-American families. Tennessee does not maintain information that determines the length of stay by race.
from Ira Lustbader, lead counsel for Childrens Rights Inc.
In TN, we were contacted years ago about fundamental problems in TN. 1996, Dept of Childrens Services was created. The idea was to combine several departments into one, (corrections, foster, mental health) thought it would result in better treatment. At this point CRI stepped back and waited to see if the new DCS would be effective. It was not.
There is a high degree of privatization of foster care in Tennessee. All group placements are contract placements. There is a glaring lack of monitoring and oversight on the states part to adequately monitor by state. With all this mismanagement there are approximately 15-20 for-profit agencies. You have contract agencies making a profit off this. The possibilities for corruption or for corners to be cut are endless. We dont have all the detailed information on contract agencies, but when you have this level of mismanagement and a high number of agencies making money off it, something is wrong. These are dangerous situations, overuse of medication, misuse of restraint methods, inadequate training of staff, overburdened caseworkers who cant meet with the children. Dangerous.
The most basic premise of the system is that children are supposed to be reunited with their families if it is at all safe to do so, within a reasonable amount of time, with the services needed. The goal is to give every family an opportunity to reunite, or then to place the child with a relative or an adoptive family. Time and again, this is not happening.
The unusual thing about Tennessee is that in Tennessee much of our allegations come from the states own data. Year after year the state notes these problems and nothing gets done.
We cant tell what the cost is going to be yet. There will be additional resources needed, but there are financial mismanagement problems, too. Through gross mismanagement the state is wasting millions in federal funds. The state could be doing a lot more with what theyve got.