DCS Dodging Oversight?

For nearly two decades, the Department of Children’s Services had to open its files to an independent team of 13 experts who would retrace every step taken to protect and care for children under the state’s watch, reports The Tennessean.
Last year, DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day abruptly ended the agency’s relationship with the Children’s Program Outcome Review Team despite the protests of children’s groups and lawmakers. Since 1994, that team’s work had been touted as the only unbiased, independent quality review of the cases of children in DCS care.
But DCS watchdogs have been disappearing. In the past two years, at least a half-dozen groups that once monitored DCS’ work have been eliminated — some by O’Day, who took over the department in early 2011. Others fell victim to reorganizations of the legislature or state government by Gov. Bill Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
State Rep. Mike Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory, called the department’s dismantling of oversight a “total disaster.”
…The diminishing level of oversight comes as O’Day and her department face increasing scrutiny for unreported child deaths. DCS was ordered by two separate courts last month to hand over details of its work with children who subsequently died since 2009.
O’Day declined to be interviewed for this story. Instead, DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth provided The Tennessean with a list of nine groups that are among a “number of external reviews which continue to provide extensive oversight and reviews of the department’s work.”
The list includes the Division of State Audit, which reviews the department’s financials; an accreditation body that reviews DCS’ detention centers for delinquent youth once every three years; and a state Sunset Audit performed by the Comptroller’s Office once every eight years.
Four of the oversight groups DCS cited have had their own difficulties with the department:
The Second Look Commission, which reviews DCS’ handling of child abuse, was given faulty data; DCS failed to respond to recommendations of the Citizen Review Panels for more than a year; members of another group on DCS’ list, the Children’s Justice Task Force, said O’Day had not met with them in two years. And outside evaluators appointed by a federal judge had to postpone their report on the department because they cannot get accurate data from DCS.

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