The Tennessee Department of Childrens Services (DCS) received another blow to its already tattered reputation when a report released Tuesday found that the agency was failing to improve the care of children in its care. The report, conducted by an independent court-appointed monitor as required by the May 2001 Childrens Rights reform lawsuit Brian A. v. Sundquist, found the state in full compliance with only 24 of 136 different provisions. Of these, the monitor reported outright non-compliance on 84 of the requirements. Were very disappointed as to the findings, said Childrens Rights lawyer Doug Gray. And not only are the findings disappointing, but the fact that DCS doesnt seem to have a plan to get in compliance. Its been 27 months and DCS has very little to show for those 27 months. The report is the first federally required report of the agencys efforts to implement changes mandated in the case. The report was based on a review of more than 1,000 individual children in state custody. Key non-compliance findings include:
DCS completed timely investigations of abuse or neglect of foster children in only 37 percent of complaints reported between July 2002 and May 2003;
Case workers made required face-to-face visits with foster children in less than 40 percent of cases reviewed; and,
Only half the number of foster children being reunited with their families were provided with services to promote safe reunification, and families were only provided these services a third of the time.
Gray said his agency is currently in a 30-day negotiation period with DCS and the need to return to court may be necessary due to the findings.
In a statement released by Childrens Rights, co-counsel in the Brian A. lawsuit, David Raybin, said, This department has a long way to go toward meeting their legal obligations to these children. Its disturbing that helping vulnerable kids by getting into compliance with this settlement has not been the states priority.
DCS Commissioner Mike Miller recently appointed a 12-member search committee to replace Juanita White, former regional director in the Shelby County office. White was fired for oversight in a review of several child deaths when child abuse had been reported.