After recent revelations that the Tennessee Department of Children's Services has been failing to report some child deaths, a longtime critic and state lawmaker said enough is enough.
State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, said it is time for a complete audit and outside investigation of DCS after it allegedly failed to report 31 child deaths in the state in 2012.
DCS workers deal with some unimaginable cases, but critics like Jones want an outside investigation after those such as a 2-year-old Wilson County child beaten to death in a DCS placement home. The mother was investigated, but DCS determined things to be all right and closed the case. Then, that same mother gives birth in a toilet and drowns her baby after DCS walks away.
"DCS is supposed to be doing all of their own investigations of themselves, which is ridiculous. You can't have the department that is doing such a poor job investigate themselves and investigate these issues that are their own fault anyway," Jones said. "I would personally like to see an outside, independent investigation."
Former DCS case managers who spoke anonymously with the I-Team agree and said they were being overruled on the ground level and blamed on the ground level when it was DCS management forcing them into dangerous situations just to save money.
"What needs to take place is, basically, a top-down investigation. There needs to be more focus on the administration. A lot of times, the administration is able to blame it on the case manager, and who is going to believe the case manager? The administration has all the power," one former DCS worker said.
But the administration believes it should continue to do all of its own investigations.
"My staff, we do internal reviews all the time, and there are always lessons to be learned," said Carla Aaron, DCS executive director for Child Safety. "Not only are we investigating, but we are tasked with predicting what might or might not happen after we close the case. And that's difficult."
Aaron said that while the deaths are awful, they need to be put into context. Those 31 deaths were part of 63,000 cases DCS investigated, and Aaron said she believes DCS is helping fix many families despite making limited mistakes.
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