DCS commissioner says agency problems being fixed - WSMV News 4

DCS commissioner says agency problems being fixed

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The commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services is asking for more than $8 million to hire new staff and make other improvements to the agency that has been highly scrutinized over children's deaths.

Commissioner Kate O'Day and her staff met with Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday during budget hearings for fiscal year 2013-14.

O'Day said she welcomes the scrutiny her department has been under for the past few months and explained how her department plans to fix some major problems.

However, some lawmakers weren't satisfied with the answers.

"We're looking at the tools that we put in those folks' hands. What kind of questions do we ask? What do we do when something goes wrong? How do we investigate that and make sure we learn and prevent the next situation from happening," O'Day said.

In the first half of 2012, at least 31 kids died who were the subject of a current or closed DCS investigation. Some were even in state custody at the time.

But that's not all.

The department's main computer tracking system has had major problems tracking and reporting the status of kids in its care or cases under investigation for the past two years.

And even the governor wants assurances that this is going to have a resolution.

"You all now are comfortable that by calendar year 13, in terms of having the information to run this - to help take care of kids in the state, we're on the right path," Haslam said.

"Yes, sir," O'Day said. "This system can be made to work. It's a large system, very complex. A lot of rebuilding needs to be done. But it is very much on its way to doing the things it needs to do."

State lawmakers have been demanding answers and say they heard little in Thursday's hearing to reassure them that children in Tennessee's care are safe.

"It's horrible what we do to kids in this state, and we need to do better," said State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.

DCS is asking for an increase in its budget next year to hire more child protective services workers who would investigate abuse reports and more case workers to deal with foster families.

In addition, its call center has had major issues, and a report is due on how to fix that within the next few months.

Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent spending cut as a fallback and said granting DCS' entire $8.6 million request would be tough because of a tight budget.

Besides DCS, other agencies scheduled to present their budgets on Thursday include Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Labor and Workforce Development.

Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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