Child Welfare
6:00 am
Tue January 28, 2014

State Audit Still Finds Big Problems at DCS

Tennessee Department of Children's Services Commissioner Jim Henry.
Tennessee Department of Children's Services Commissioner Jim Henry.
Credit http://archive.wbir.com/images/640/360/2/assetpool/images/130207083052_jim%20henry%20tn.jpg

Nearly a year after its director resigned under political and media scrutiny, a state audit asserted the Tennessee Department of Children's Services still struggles with some major issues.

The report, released by the state comptroller's office Monday, said DCS conducted subpar child abuse investigations and failed to keep proper tabs on juvenile delinquents. The report also indicates the agency's failure to report child deaths to the General Assembly violates state law.

Other findings from the audit include difficulties with reporting child abuse to the agency, inconsistent involvement from child protection teams, and possible insufficient background checks for foster parents. The report also pointed out some improvements, including revamped training for child abuse investigators and an improved process to review the fatalities of children who die under DCS care.

The audit looked at DCS from 2007 through 2013, and was released just ahead of a Monday hearing in which lawmakers discussed the findings. The department's leaders agreed with many of the report's criticisms, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

Reports about the department's problems began surfacing in 2012, as reporters dug into accounts of overburdened case workers, inadequate record-keeping and poor staff training. DCS initially fought requests to release documents related to individual cases. The Tennessean, the Associated Press and other press outlets joined a lawsuit to force DCS to release the documents. In 2013, a judge ordered the agency to begin releasing records related to child deaths, though some information was still redacted from the reports.

In the middle of the controversy, then-DCS head Kate O'Day stepped down. She was succeeded by Jim Henry, who was later approved as permanent commissioner. Henry made a pledge to reform the department and address the errors.

State lawmakers have asked to hear another progress report in six months' time.