By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An independent monitor for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency’s progress in 2012 was disappointing.
The Technical Assistance Committee reports to a federal judge on DCS’ performance as part of a 2001 settlement over the agency’s treatment of foster children.
Among other things, the 2012 report found that workers took too long to make contact with child victims. In the highest priority cases, where children were considered potentially to be in imminent danger, caseworkers made contact within the required 24 hours between about 30 and 70 percent of the time.
The report also found that young people who were aging out of foster care were not being prepared to transition to adulthood.
According to a review of independent living plans:
“In only 41 percent of the cases did the plan reflect where the child was going to live as an adult, and in only 20 percent of the cases was there a plan for how the youth would pay for housing.
“Employment goals were identified in only 46 percent of the cases; post-secondary educational or vocational needs or goals were identified in only 35 percent of the cases; and only 27 percent of the plans indicated how the young person was going to support herself financially.”
DCS came under fire in 2012 when officials could not say with certainty how many of the children it serves had died. Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned in early 2013 and was replaced by Jim Henry, who is restructuring the agency.
Ira Lustbader is the associate director for Children’s Rights, the nonprofit that filed the federal lawsuit that led to the settlement and monitoring. “These kinds of problems are fundamental and really have a damaging impact on kids. They have to be a major priority for DCS going forward,” he said.
But he added that he is encouraged that the new leadership at the agency is taking steps in a positive direction.
“They have jumped in and tackled a major overhaul of the way DCS tracks and reviews child deaths,” he said. “And they have done more to fix major computer problems over the last few months than probably was done the whole previous year.”
The report was delayed by several months because of problems with the agency’s computer system that prevented the committee from getting reliable data.