Since January, the Department of Children’s Services has reported that 73 children who were brought to its attention died in 2012, but the state now says the correct number is 105, reports The Tennessean. DCS also miscalculated the number of children who died in 2011. In October, the agency said 47 children had died after having some contact with DCS, but now the state says the correct number for that year is 91.
DCS has now revised upwards the number of such child fatalities at least five times since The Tennessean asked for the data in September, prompting frustration as well as a measure of skepticism from lawmakers reached on Monday.
“Can we rely on these numbers? I don’t know. I hope we can,” said state Sen. Jim Summerville, a Republican from Dickson. “It’s strange to me that a big department with lots of professional help keeps having to change their report. Counting children should not be that hard. Counting dead children is an awful thing, but the department must do it right.”
State Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, began requesting child fatality data in July. On Monday, Jones — like Summerville — said she still had not received an accurate accounting from DCS, asking that the numbers be read to her over the phone.
“This is unbelievable, unprofessional,” Jones said. “Unless the numbers are being manipulated and no one can keep track, they should know these numbers every day, and I’m surprised they don’t.”
Former state Sen. Roy Herron said Friday that he’s running for chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, joining a crowded field of candidates looking for the chance to steer the party onto more solid footing in the state, reports Michael Cass Herron, who did not seek re-election to the Senate in November, said he decided to jump into the chairmanship race after a family member’s health issue was resolved late last week. He said he didn’t think it was too late to win this election, which the state party’s 72 executive committee members will decide on Jan. 26.
“It’s clear no one has a majority,” he told The Tennessean. “If I thought the election was over, I wouldn’t be getting in the race.”
…He joins at least four other candidates for the state party’s chairmanship: Jane Hampton Bowen, the political liaison for a Chattanooga labor group; Dave Garrison, a Nashville lawyer and the party’s current treasurer; Wade Munday, a Nashville nonprofit executive who once served as the party’s spokesman, and Ben Smith, a Nashville lawyer who advised Jason Powell in his successful run for the state legislature this year.
State Rep. Sherry Jones, who considered running, told The Tennessean earlier Friday that she probably wouldn’t seek the position. Jones said she has “too much going on” and that she doesn’t think a woman can win the post right now.
State Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville is the latest Democrat to declare an interest in succeeding Chip Forrester, who is not seeking a new term as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic party.
Jones, a Nashvillian who has recently been crusading against what she considers ineptness at the state Department of Children’s Services, says she would seek a change in party by-laws if elected so that the position would be part-time rather than full-time. She would continue to hold her legislative seat – just as Rep. Beth Harwell, now speaker of the House, did while chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.
Jones said last week that she believes the party needs to work toward becoming more inclusive, noting that white men have always served as chairmen in the past – with the single, 1980s exception of Jane Eskind.
“I love all the old white guys, but we’ve got to include everybody,” she said.
Previously declared candidates for state Democratic chair are David Garrison, now the party treasurer; Wade Munday, who previously served as the party’s communications director; and Nashville lawyer Ben Smith.
Former state Sen. Roy Herron’s name has come up in speculation, but he has yet to indicate an interest in the job.
There’s also been speculation about former state Sen. Roy Herron, who did not seek reelection as a legislator this year. But so far Herron, a Dresden lawyer, has not said whether he will seek the post.
Rep. Sherry Jones, a Democrat, has made women’s and children’s issues the centerpiece of her 18 years in the legislature, reports The Tennessean in a review of the House District 59 contest.. Her opponent, Robert Duvall, the Metro councilman and Republican nominee for the race, said he is focused on bringing jobs and retail back to the district — and he is characteristically blunt about making his priorities clear, even in a year in which the “gender gap” has been an obsession of political analysts nationwide.
“What is more important right now? Women’s issues or putting people back to work?” said Duvall, who has been a councilman since 2006.
And that, as much as anything, explains the clear contrast in priorities between the candidates running to represent State House District 59.
“My number one priority has been children, healthcare and abuse issues,” Jones said. “Nobody else is as deeply invested in this issue.” The politicians are running to represent a somewhat economically depressed district in southeast Davidson County, including much of Antioch.
The data on 31 children whose lives had at some point intersected with Department of Children’s Services workers before they died this year have been released in response to requests by The Tennessean and by Democratic state lawmaker Sherry Jones.
Jones had made repeated requests over the past two months for the information. Ten children died in Tennessee during the first six months of 2012 while they were the subjects of ongoing investigations by the Department of Children’s Services. None was more than a year old.
An additional 17 children who died during the same time period had at some point been brought to the attention of DCS. At the time of their deaths, however, their case files had been closed.
And four children ages 18 and younger died in state custody during the same period of time.
…In releasing the data to Jones and the newspaper, DCS attorney Douglas Dimond acknowledged that the state agency charged with protecting children had been violating the law for seven years in its reporting of child deaths.
A 2005 law requires DCS to inform lawmakers of each child death or near-death in their district within 45 days.
“Although the statute was enacted in 2005, it does not appear that the Department has been generating individual notifications to legislators at any time or under any version of the statute since then, but the Department will certainly begin doing so immediately in compliance with the statute,” Dimond wrote.