National News

TN Dept. of Children's Services no longer under federal oversight after court decision

Posted July 18

— Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) will no longer be under federal oversight after U.S. District Court Chief Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. approved a deal between the state and a New York-based advocacy group, Children's Rights.

The agreement took nearly two decades to wage -- beginning in 2000 when Children's Rights filed a lawsuit, also known as the "Brian A. lawsuit," claiming children in the Tennessee foster care system "suffered in an overburdened system, describing children in crowded congregate care shelters and social workers with overwhelming caseloads."

Today, nearly 7,300 children are in state's foster care system. DCS is also responsible for another 1,100 children currently within the state's juvenile-justice population -- these children were not included in the Brian A. lawsuit.

"This is monumental for Tennessee's children and the state," Gov. Haslam said in his announcement. "After years of intervention, the federal government is saying that Tennessee is providing service to children in a way that models what it should look like for the rest of the country."

While the lawsuit took place, the State spent years working on system-wide reform to improve the quality of DCS' care.

The reform comes after years of collaboration with Children's Rights and the Technical Assistance Committee, a panel of nationally recognized child welfare experts that served as the federal court monitor for the Brian A. consent decree.

DCS achieved its court-required performance goals in 2015, and the oversight continued in 2016.

According to the Governor's office, some of the department's biggest achievements include:

Among the nearly 140 foster-care benchmarks DCS achieved are measures of time to reunification, time to adoption, re-entry into the foster-care system, the length of time in placement, parent-and-child visits and case-manager caseloads.

DCS emphasizes family-style placement for youth in foster care, in place of institutional settings such as orphanages.

DCS has become a national leader in timeliness to adoption and in implementing a child-and-family teaming model that encourages birth parents, case managers, care providers and foster families to work together on behalf of a child.

DCS has developed a process that has put the department on a path to a more professional workforce, with bachelor's and master's degree programs for case managers and supervisors.

DCS has built a robust, modern case-management computer system, TFACTS, that handles everything from case notes, management tools to billing days. It replaced a patchwork of computer systems that did not always work together reliably.

Although not a Brian A. requirement, DCS has achieved re-accreditation by the Council on Accreditation. Tennessee is one of the few states in the nation accomplish this.

Tennessee is the first state in the U.S. to offer independent living services to 100 percent of the youth who age out of foster care. This program is an outgrowth of pioneering work with private provider Youth Villages.

"This stage in our journey represents the hard work, commitment and innovation it has taken to get here. So on behalf of our children, families, staff and partners, I can say that we're just thrilled and thankful," says Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich.

"But the work goes on. We will always have tough problems before us. At DCS, we promise to bring our full energy and attention to whatever lies ahead, and we will use the same focus and dedication that has brought us to this point today."

Gov. Haslam, along with Commissioner Hommrich and Deputy Gov. Jim Henry, will hold a press conference on Tuesday to explain the changes that will take place while the agency changes transitions from federal to state oversight.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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