DCS audit goes before legislative subcommittee

Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 2:43 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 9:32 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is expected to respond to a scathing audit released on Tuesday by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

The audit resulted in 13 findings, one observation and two matters for legislative consideration.

Among the findings in the audit:

  • Case manager turnover and employee vacancies at DCS have reached crisis levels while the number of children going into DCS custody continues to rise.
  • Children may have remained in unsafe situations because management has not met established timelines for key points of child abuse and neglect investigations.
  • DCS did not ensure that reported allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or lack of supervision of custodial children living in residential facilities were investigated.
  • DCS has not developed an effective and efficient process to respond to sexual abuse and harassment allegations to keep children in residential facilities safe.
  • Deficiencies in management’s Provider Quality Team (PQT) review process contributed to the PQT not identifying a questionable provider employee, to prevent his contact with children in state custody, and to avoid child endangerment.

The comptroller’s audit is being discussed by the Government Operations Joint Subcommittee on Education, Health, and General Welfare this morning in the Cordell Hull Building. DCS Commissioner Margie Quin is expected to prepare a response to the audit to the subcommittee.

“The crisis at the Department of Children’s Services is widespread and well-documented,” state Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, said in a statement after the audit was released. “There is no excuse for inaction, halfhearted fixes or more delays. The department’s top responsibility is to keep children out of harm’s way and we will sound the alarm until the state lives up to that promise.”

“Children, who came to DCS because they suffered neglect or abuse, are being victimized a second time because the governor and supermajority have failed to invest in the people responsible for their care,” state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said in a statement. “We need urgent and meaningful reforms to protect these children and today underscores the importance of taking immediate action.”

Campbell and Johnson created a website documenting the crisis endangering vulnerable children at DCS.

WSMV4 did a series of investigations into DCS in 2020, many of which appeared in lawmakers’ documented problems.

WSMV4 Investigates reported in October 2020 that DCS was placing dangerous and violent children in foster homes without disclosing their history to the foster parents, putting them and other children in the home at risk.

A former longtime employee of DCS confirmed the October report in an interview aired in December 2020. WSMV4 Investigates interviewed former DCS employees about children with violent histories being placed with unsuspecting foster families.

A former employee provided WSMV4 Investigates documentation of children with violent histories that were placed with foster families in Nashville who were not trained to handle high-risk placements.

The former employee said every bit of the information WSMV4 Investigates exposed was true.

“In seeing the way that foster parents have been treated for years. It was very disturbing to me,” the former employee said explaining why they decided to come forward.

The former employee said the reason parents are so astonished is that DCS routinely places children with violent histories with families who are not trained to handle children with violent pasts.

An audit found that DCS case managers continued to juggle caseloads that are too high. The 2020 audit found that as many as 20% of caseworkers were responsible for more than 20 families – some carrying those high caseloads for months at a time: 252 case managers carried more than 20 cases each month for at least 6 months; 125 case managers carried more than 20 cases for a year.

In the audit released Tuesday, in May 2022, 36.9% of case managers with DCS averaged more than 20 cases, a number that increased from 8.3% in August 2020. That includes an average of above 40 in Davidson County and almost 35 at times from August 2020 through May 2022 in the Mid-Cumberland region that includes Rutherford, Sumner and Wilson counties.

In May 2022, the Davidson, Knox, Mid-Cumberland, Northeast, Shelby and South Central regions exceeded average caseloads of over 20 cases per case manager.

Here’s a list of past DCS Performance Audit: