Tennessee shows more cases of child deaths in DCS care
Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 9:04 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee officials have discovered nine more cases of children who died during the past two years while under the supervision of the state Department of Children’s Services, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday. He called for a new approach at the troubled agency.
Some of the newly discovered cases previously had been documented incorrectly, while others weren’t documented at all, a situation the Republican chief executive called “not acceptable.”
“While it is no secret that DCS has struggled with systemic problems since its inception, we have to get it right,” Haslam said in a statement.
The governor appointed Larry Martin, a senior adviser in his office, to conduct an analysis of the DCS operations, but said Commissioner Kate O’Day will remain in charge.
“To me this this really isn’t about data, or one employee, or even one case,” he said. “This is about getting it right for the children who need our help.”
The additional cases were uncovered as officials prepared for a federal court hearing today.
DCS has been under federal court oversight since 2001 after settling a class-action lawsuit over the high number of children it has placed in foster care.
The settlement limited the number of cases assigned to workers and required better training. It also led to the appointment of a monitor to report on whether the state was making progress to reduce the numbers of children living in institutions and place siblings in the same foster home, among other measures.
Haslam did not say in the statement what changes he expects to make at the department.
“The department’s work is critical,” he said. “My goal is not to get in the way of that work, but I believe we have to take a different approach than what has been taken before.”
A Nashville judge in a separate case this week ordered the department to provide more detailed information about children who died or nearly died after the agency investigated reports of abuse or neglect.
The department initially produced a report containing only one line of information on the cases of 151 children who officials said had died since 2009. Attorneys for the state had argued that DCS was prohibited by state law from releasing its records.
Chancellor Carol McCoy on Wednesday ruled that a child’s right to privacy is diminished after the child dies and the more important concern becomes what the state did or did not do to try to prevent the death.
She directed DCS to file with the court an estimate of how long it will take to redact the confidential information from the summaries of the more than 200 other requested files and the costs involved.
The records then must be turned over to 12 news media organizations that sued under Tennessee’s public records law. The media coalition was led by The Tennessean and included The Associated Press.
As part of the case, McCoy reviewed the files of four of the children whose records had been requested.
“The files do not appear to be in chronological order nor are they organized in any meaningful way; the individual pages are held together with large clips in plain folders,” McCoy said in her order.
Published in The Messenger 1.25.13