NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - He came into their family at fifteen-year-old, tattooed on his arms and neck, considered by the state department of children’s services as an emergency placement.
But his foster family didn’t care. After all, they felt it was their calling to help children in their time of need.
“We wanted to give back and make a difference,” said the foster mother, who asked that we conceal her identity because she continues to take in children.
She said it also helped that DCS said the teenager had no history of violence.
Then, the fifteen-year-old disappeared one night, along with the family’s only van, that contained car seats and strollers for their three adopted children.
When the van was later discovered, it was unrecognizable.
“It was burned beyond recognition. It took them three days to find the VIN number,” the foster mother said.
It was only after the theft and the disappearance of the teenager, that the family learned he had a history of auto theft and had been investigated for molesting a child.
At that point, the foster mother and her husband stopped foster teenagers from DCS.
“The danger is too great, and you can’t rely on the state to be transparent,” the foster mother said.
The family is among five others that went on the records with News4 Investigates, detailing how they say the agency withheld information about children with histories of violence of sexual behavior.
News4 Investigates also spoke with other families who could not go on the record.
“(DCS) may not be arrested for it – but they should,” said Jon Hageman, a foster father, who said when a 17-year-old was placed in his home, the state provided a checklist citing he had no history of destruction of property or violence.
Not long after the 17-year-old came to live with Hageman’s family, the teenager flew into a rage, breaking a TV, punching a door and smashing dishes.
In a 911 call made to metro police, Hageman can be heard desperately calling for help.
“Get a cop here now!” Hageman can be heard saying in the 911 call.
“Is that him screaming in the background?” the 911 operator asks.
“Yes!” Hageman responds.
“What’s he doing?” the 911 operator asks.
“He’s destroying the house is what he’s doing,” Hageman said.
After the violent outburst, Hageman then obtained the teen’s history that shows in May 2016, his behavior was described as “destructive” when he assaulted a DCS staff member and destroyed property at a DCS office.
“Do you remember what you said to DCS when you found this out?” asked News4 Investigates.
“I told them it was criminal,” Hageman said.
Lessie Lang, who has three young children she adopted, said she allowed DCS to place a teenager girl into her home.
Lang said it was that teenager, not DCS, who later admitted she had been investigated for molestation.
“DCS did not tell me,” Lang said.
Two additional families, who both asked that we conceal their identities because they still foster children, told similar stories.
One family said they had no idea that a teenager placed in their home had attacked a DCS staffer in the past.
The other family said DCS did not disclose the depths of the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl who was placed with them.
After the family adopted her six months later, they said she attempted to molest two boys.
“Our first instinct was to call DCS and ask – what in the world is going on? She just tried to molest two five-year-old boys,” the foster father said.
These families all believe that DCS caseworkers are simply overwhelmed with too many children to place.
“(DCS) will do whatever they have to in order to get these kids out of their office and a bed to sleep in at night
For weeks, News4 Investigates repeatedly requested an interview with DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols, but we were told she would not speak with us, as she is forbidden by state law from discussing individual cases and that many of the family’s claims happened before her time with state government.
But the day before our story was set to air, we were notified she should would speak with us on the condition that she could not talk about the specific cases.
“These families say their caseworkers were not open with them about the backgrounds of these children,” said News4 Investigates.
“Truth and transparency with families is critical. If the family was not fully advised – on any given day – about the needs of a child, I’m sorry for that. I said a few minutes ago, do we get it right every time? No,” Nichols said. “Do we try every single day? Absolutely.”
Nichols said there are 8,241 children in foster care in Tennessee, and these family’s complaints are small when compared to the vast majority of cases that do work out with the more than 5,000 foster families and contract providers.
Families say even if the commissioner is forbidden by state law from discussing these cases, she should respond to the documentation they say shows how information was concealed from them.
The family whose van was stolen and burned, they later received an email asking them to sign a document that acknowledged the family was, in fact, aware of his violent background.
“(The case worker) told us that her supervisor demanded that we sign this form,” the foster mother said.
“They were ultimately asking you to sign that you were aware that he had this violent background. When in fact you never had,” said News4 Investigates.
“Right,” the foster mother said.
The family’s email response to DCS: we will not sign anything
“Some of these families have documentation that shows information was withheld from them,” News4 Investigates asked the commissioner.
“I’m telling you, if that was done, it’s wrong. People should know what they’re getting into. And you know what – the children deserve – the children deserve to go into a home that is fully appraised of whatever is brought into that home,” Nichols said.
Nicols also said that they monitor the average caseload for DCS workers each month.
DCS numbers show, the average number of caseloads per worker is up, from roughly 14 last year to 17 this year.
Those numbers also show the average caseload per worker is down, from 15 to 14.