The Tennessee Department of Children's Services is facing scrutiny for illegally failing to report 31 child deaths in the state in 2012.
But a closer look at those deaths reveals an even more horrifying pattern. Former DCS case managers and team leaders told they Channel 4 I-Team they know why this is happening and why it will continue.
Twenty-two times DCS opened a file on a family and heard things were bad enough to open an investigation. They then came in, took a look and closed the file.
But the problem is that family may not have been fixed, and 22 children died after those files were closed.
Former DCS case managers who spoke anonymously with the I-Team had worked dozens of cases in their careers and said one of the biggest problems with DCS is that case workers are pressured to close cases as fast as possible.
"You are allowed 30 days in which to work and close an investigation. Thirty days is just not enough. An investigation involves severe abuse allegations, so you have 30 days to fix a family," one former DCS worker said.
Not only that, but the former case workers said these are just the cases which involved deaths. Imagine the countless children, they said, who are living in horror because DCS has rushed to close the case.
"Just because they didn't die the first time, people say, 'nothing happened.' Well, what are you waiting for? Why aren't you taking care of the problem the first time? Why are you putting kids back in the home when the situation hasn't been fixed?" another former worker said.
The I-Team spoke with Carla Aaron, DCS Executive Director for Child Safety, who said that is not the case.
"Actually, the statute gives us 60 days to do an investigation. We try to comply with that, because that's the law. We work closely with law enforcement and the DAs, and there are situations where we go beyond the 60 days, because we haven't completed it and aren't sure that child is safe," Aaron said.
But the former DCS case workers said the department pressures workers even when they take a child out to put them with a family member. In one case, when a case worker discovered the children were being regularly beaten by the family member, she said it still took 90 days for DCS supervisors to allow her to remove the children.
"At any time during that three months, the children could have died. And the numbers going to increase every year," the worker said. "That's why children die."
Aaron said that some of those 22 deaths were accidents, but critics said that until all of the circumstances surrounding the deaths are made public there is still some doubt and mistrust.
Aaron maintains DCS case workers have 60 days, but the case workers say the law is not followed, and they are told they have 30 days. There remains lots of unresolved conflict.
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