The agency in charge of protecting children in state custody has not provided data requested by the Tennessean and by Representative Sherry Jones. Rep. Jones has been waiting more than two months for the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to provide data on not only how many children in state custody have died this year, but how many deaths occurred among those children for whom the agency had ever opened a case file as well. According to Rep. Jones, the requested information is necessary in determining how well the agency is performing its job of protecting the children of Tennessee, and she criticized the agency for the delay in providing the information.
The state agency has come under fire recently for more than the delay in providing this requested data. According to the Tennessean, DCS has failed to make payments to foster parents and state agencies, failed in keeping accurate records and properly documenting social worker’s response times to incidents of child abuse in recent months. The agency’s new $37 million computer system has been cited as a failure in its intended use, which is to track each child who has contact with DCS.
Rep. Jones said, “I know these deaths are occurring all across the state because they’re reported in the media. But the state should be able to tell us how many children have died who were in their care or who they had a report on.” Jones has stated that her chief concern is whether or not DCS is failing children. She first requested the information on July 3, and was informed in a letter by DCS Chief of Staff Frank Mix on July 30, that she should receive the information by mid-August. After failing to provide the requested information by mid-August, she requested the information again on August 27, and then again last week.
DCS spokeswoman Molly Suddeth stated on Monday that although the agency is continuing to gather the requested information, she could not specify when the information would be available. “We will work to get this to you as soon as possible,” she said.
DCS has been under court-ordered oversight since 2000, when a federal judge found that Tennessee was failing to properly care for children in foster care. Until the new system was put into place, the agency was thought to be making great improvements and was placed under a two-year exit plan designed to release the state from the court oversight. However, with these new problems, the release from court oversight has been postponed indefinitely.