Tag Archives: DCS

DCS meets improvement goals after 15 years of federal oversight

By Travi Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After 15 years of federal oversight, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has finally met all of the goals set out after a 2001 settlement to improve its treatment of foster care children.

Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich briefly teared up after a Monday hearing on the long-running lawsuit, when she spoke about all of the hard work that has gone into turning the agency around.

“I’m elated,” she said of the development.

Although the department still must maintain compliance with the goals of the settlement for a year before it can ask the court to release the agency from supervision, Hommrich said she was confident the improvements will continue, even after no one is looking over her shoulder.

“It doesn’t end today,” she said. “This goes on the next day and the next day.”

Improvements include reduced case loads, better training for case workers and a focus on intensive in-home intervention on the front end of cases.
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DCS stops sending kids to two privately-operated juvenile detention centers

The Department of Children’s Services will no longer place girls in Magnolia Academy after repeated escapes and runaways from the juvenile detention facilities in Columbia and Lewisburg, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

More than 60 girls have run away from the Columbia home since 2011, The Daily Herald reported in August. The problem was exacerbated over the summer when two girls escaped in a stolen Magnolia Academy van and eluded police for more than two months.

DCS worked with Magnolia Academy’s parent company, ResCare of Louisville, to resolve problems, said Susan Mitchell, DCS executive director of network development. A series of corrective actions were unsustainable at the homes for low-level juvenile offenders and troubled foster children.

“We were in ongoing discussions with the parent company,” Mitchell said. “They made some progress. But it seemed like when they turned off one spigot, another one would flood the premises. It was one problem after another.

“We had open communications and worked collaboratively, but I stand by the decision to stop sending girls,” she added. “We all have precious few hours in the day. This problem continued to persist. We were continually having to put out little forest fires, little spot fires.”

The Columbia Police Department felt it was being used as a private security force for Magnolia Academy. Whenever a girl would run away, Magnolia Academy staffers were forced to call police because employees were not given authority to stop them.

“To keep the girls happy, some staffers bent the rules,” former Columbia house manager Tina Arigbe told The Daily Herald. “They let the girls use personal cell phones, allowed them to skip mandatory classes and looked the other way when they left the home unsupervised. “It’s a good decision DCS has made,” Arigbe added. “It was a real high risk in the end for the girls to continue to be sent there in Columbia and Lewisburg.”

…The Columbia home housed 12 girls at capacity. It was not equipped with a fence and had minimal security. The Lewisburg home had eight girls when full. It was plagued at the end by plumbing problems. Girls were using the bathroom in the woods for a short period of time.

“The girls were living in filthy conditions,” Arigbe said of the Lewisburg home. “Staff was out sick because of the smell out there.” Arigbe tried for months to call problems to ResCare’s attention, pointing out irregularities to her supervisors after she was hired in January 2014. She was fired July 9.

…ResCare will continue to operate a home for boys in Lewisburg, “For now,” Mitchell said. Arigbe said the same issues have been problematic for the boys. “They have runaways. Kids are not going to school. They don’t seem to care,” Arigbe said.

DCS expects to escape fed oversight in 2017

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After nearly 15 years of federal oversight, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services expects to meet all the requirements of a 2001 settlement agreement by the end of the calendar year.

If DCS can meet that goal and maintain compliance for a full year, officials could then ask U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell to end the federal supervision. The earliest that would happen would be 2017.

The settlement came after the court found serious problems with the department’s treatment of foster care children. It sets out a series of requirements for the department, including reasonable caseloads, sufficient training for case workers, and a quick response to reports of abuse or neglect.

At a progress hearing Monday, both sides agreed the department is about 90 percent of the way there.
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DCS worker reported talking with the dead

A former child services investigator pleaded guilty to forgery Thursday after an investigation into a child’s death revealed she lied about meeting the child’s father, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Cathy Agnew pleaded guilty in Sullivan County District Court to one count of forgery, according to Julie Canter, an assistant district attorney for Sullivan County. Forgery is a Class E felony that carries a sentence of one to two years in prison. She will be sentenced on Nov. 20, 2015.

The charge stems from a previous Department of Children’s Services investigation into the death of a child.

During the investigation, Agnew made a false entry into DCS records. She stated she had a face to face meeting with the child’s father. The only problem was the child’s father had died of a drug overdose in December 2014.

“It’s important that DCS investigations are thorough,” Canter said. “She lied about that.”

DCS investigates reported hazing, sexual assault at religious football camp

A Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesperson confirmed Monday the agency’s involvement in an investigation into allegations of hazing and sexual assault at a religious football camp held at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, reports the Johnson City Press. So far, the investigation has led to suspension of four students David Crockett High School in Johnson City.

Rob Johnson, DCS director of communications, said a call to the department’s hotline reporting an incident at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes football camp at Cookeville’s Tennessee Technological University two weeks ago prompted an investigation by the department.

That call was placed by a school administrator, Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said, shortly after the district and the Johnson City Press received emails on July 23 from an anonymous tipster claiming freshman football players were pinned down while older students rubbed their genitals on the younger boys’ faces.

More than 60 Crockett football players attended the team-building workshop organized by the FCA in mid-July, attending religious services and athletic practices while staying in the college’s on-campus dorms.

School administrators previously said the incident likely occurred in the dorms, where the students and their chaperones slept on different floors.

With Children’s Services investigators assigned to the case, Johnson said the matter could be explored by a child protective investigation team, provided for by state law.

The child protective investigation team, or CPIT, is statutorily comprised of law enforcement members, prosecutors, DCS workers and children’s advocacy representatives, and is tasked with investigating allegations of child abuse and determining whether children are still under threat.

Speaking generally, Johnson said if the DCS and CPIT investigations reveal evidence of a crime, law enforcement and the district attorney general’s office holding jurisdiction could decide to pursue charges.

…James Murphy, Washington County Schools’ secondary director of attendance and discipline, said two seniors and two underclassmen have so far been remanded to alternative school after the district’s own investigation.

DCS official fired after being charged with assault

Warren Crook, an employee of the Department of Children’s Services, has been terminated from his position after being charged with four counts of aggravated assault, reports the Jackson Sun. The charges stem from Crook firing a shotgun during a confrontation involving teenagers near his Lexington home.

Crook, 54, served as an administrative services manager for the department (in Madison County). According to Rob Johnson, Crook’s job was mostly “desk driven,” and he had no contact with children in his job.

According to the termination letter obtained by The Jackson Sun, Crook’s last day was July 24. It is required by law that DCS give a 10 day paid notice, but Crook is not permitted to work during those 10 days.

“As a result of your inappropriate personal conduct which directly affects your position, duties and responsibilities, the department has experienced negative media coverage and undue concern from our community partners and the general public,” the letter says.

TN still ranked 36th for child well-being

News release from Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth
Nashville –– The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2015 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today shows Tennessee ranks 36th in the country for child well-being, the same as in 2014.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks child well-being across four domains with Tennessee ranking 38th in Economic Well-Being, 36th in Education, 30th in Health, and 37th in Family and Community. The state improved or remained the same on 11 of 16 measures, while conditions worsened on five indicators.

A bright spot for the state was its ranking of 20th in the Education indicator of high school students graduating on time.

“Good public policies improve outcomes for Tennessee children,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the state’s KIDS COUNT® affiliate, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “Requiring children to stay in school until age 18 improves high school graduation rates and the percent of children who live in families where the household head has a high school diploma, both indicators where Tennessee scored better than the national average.”
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DCS expanding public disclosure of suspected child abuser names

The names of suspected child abusers — not just those charged or convicted — will be made publicly available by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services under a new policy said to be following an old law, reports Richard Locker.

DCS has long maintained an internal, secret registry of people whom the agency has “substantiated” for child abuse or neglect but has, as required by state law, worked with such institutions as schools, child-care centers and foster-care providers to verify whether potential new employees are on the list. State law prohibits people on the DCS registry from being hired as teachers or child-care providers and from being foster parents.

But now, based on a new review of a 1987 law that predates the 1996 creation of DCS, the department will make available names from its registry for inclusion on the separate “abuse registry” maintained by the Health Department. That registry is, by law, on the Health Department’s website. Anyone can enter a name to see whether it’s on the registry of people who abused adults, usually in such settings as nursing homes or home care.

A DCS internal review of its operating policies discovered the 1987 law apparently requires that the department share names added to its registry with the Health Department database.

“We think it’s the right thing to do. DCS found this nearly 30-year-old statute and brought it to the attention of the Department of Health,” DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said.

The confidential DCS registry has about 154,000 names, but they will not be forwarded to the Health Department retroactively. Instead, DCS began notifying people on March 15 who were being added to its child-abuse registry from that date forward that their names could also appear on the public abuse registry and how to appeal their placement on it. DCS began on July 1 sending to the Health Department the names of people who did not appeal.

“We have to ensure that everyone gets due process,” Johnson said.

But among child-welfare advocates inside and outside the agency, there are concerns about the new policy — partly because inclusion on the registries is usually permanent and partly because it could hamper the confidential nature of DCS’s work with families.
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Bonnie Hommrich named new DCS commissioner

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Bonnie Hommrich as the new commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

Hommrich has served as deputy commissioner for child programs at DCS since 2004. Her responsibilities have included the areas of child protective services, foster care, adoptions, community juvenile justice and independent living.

Hommrich, 68, has also had oversight over the Brian A. settlement agreement, participated in accreditation by the Council on Accreditation, supported implementation of the federal IV-E waiver and performance-based contracting with key private provider agencies.

“Bonnie has dedicated her entire career to helping children and families,” Haslam said. “She has experience on the front lines of social work as well as in senior level positions where she has analyzed and interpreted complex information, situations and issues. I am grateful for her willingness to serve as commissioner and to have her depth of knowledge and expertise leading the department.”
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Haslam names Jim Henry as chief of staff in shakeup of administration’s top slots

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Jim Henry as his new chief of staff. Henry currently serves as commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and replaces Mark Cate who announced his departure last month.

“Over the past four years, Jim has led two departments in state government that handle some of our most difficult work concerning our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “Along with his experience in DIDD and DCS, he has been a mayor, a legislator and businessman. I appreciate his willingness to serve in this capacity and bring his knowledge and expertise to our office.”

Henry, 70, first served in the Haslam administration as the first commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on January 15, 2011. He became commissioner of DCS in 2013.

“I am honored to serve the administration in this new capacity and look forward to working in the governor’s office,” Henry said. “I’ll miss working every day with the dedicated and hardworking employees at DCS but know that they will continue to do great work for the state.”

Before joining the Haslam administration, Henry served as president and chief executive officer of Omni Visions, Inc., a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. A Vietnam veteran and former mayor of Kingston, Henry spent 12 years as a state representative and six of those years as minority leader.

Haslam also announced that Leslie Hafner, 45, who currently serves as director for legislation, will be promoted to senior advisor to the governor. Hafner is a 20-year veteran of legislative plaza and Tennessee politics. Before joining the Haslam administration, she was a principal at Hafner/Alexander Government Relations. She has also been director of government relations for Bass, Berry & Sims and served seven years in the administration of Gov. Don Sundquist.

In addition, the governor announced that Will Cromer, 30, who currently serves as policy director will be promoted. Cromer will become special assistant to the governor for strategy and will also continue to serve as director of policy. Prior to joining the Haslam administration, Cromer served as policy director for the 2010 Bill Haslam for Governor campaign and as a member of the governor-elect’s transition team. Cromer previously worked for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) and before that worked in the Washington, D.C. nonprofit sector promoting free market policies.

The governor also announced that Deputy Director for Legislation Warren Wells, 31, will become the new director for legislation. Before joining the administration as a legislative liaison to the Department of Finance and Administration, Wells served as a research analyst for the Senate Transportation Committee and worked in the office of Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville). Before that he spent nine years in the Army National Guard. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was stationed at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, where he earned a Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal.

The appointments are effective August 1.