NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - A foster family has come to News4 Investigates with documentation that a female child, with a substantiated claim of sexually abusing another child, was placed in their home by the state department of children services before they were told of her background.
The family claims that the child then sexually abused their daughter. It is the latest discovery in an ongoing News4 Investigates where foster parents have documentation of DCS not disclosing the history of violent or sexually aggressive foster children placed in their homes.
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.
Our investigation also revealed how children with higher threat levels are being placed with foster families not trained to handle their specific needs.
While a DCS spokesman said they could not comment on specific cases, Commissioner Jennifer Nichols told News4 Investigates in October 2020 that the cases we’ve uncovered were before her administration.
But the foster family, who asked we protect their identity because their daughter is a minor, said their placement agent, which is contracted with DCS, put a foster child in their home in early October 2020.
“We’re one of those (families). We would take them all if we could. We love doing it,” said the father of the family.
Before the foster child came, the father said they were clear which placement they would not accept.
“That was violent children that were aggressively violent. And sexually aggressive children. They assured us that we didn’t have to worry about that,” the foster father said.
When the ten-year-old girl was placed with them in early October, they knew she had been sexually abused.
But their family is considered “therapeutic,” meaning they had received training to help children with special challenges.
It was only after the girl had been with the family for several days did they receive an email that she had been investigated a year earlier.
That email showed an investigation found allegations that the girl sexually touching another child were substantiated through a special investigations unit in July 2019.
The father and mother of the foster family said that DCS did not tell them or their placement agent about the girl’s history until after she had repeatedly been among their children.
The family said their six-year-old daughter soon came to them with a troubling story.
“(The) other little girl said, ‘This is our secret. You can’t tell anybody,’” the father said.
Both the father and the mother of the family told News4 Investigates that their daughter then detailed abuse at the hands of the ten-year-old foster child.”
“When you first hear it – you’re like – really upset,” the foster father said.
“Do you feel that the state isn’t being transparent enough for parents like you?” asked News4 Investigates.
“I feel that the state is placing children and not being 100 percent honest about their backgrounds,” the father said.
When Commissioner Jennifer Nichols finally agreed to speak with News4 Investigates about other foster families’ concerns last October, she indicated their cases were before her administration.
“The families that you’re speaking come with cases there were from years ago,” Nichols said in the interview.
The alleged sexual abuse of the little girl, in this case, happened after our interview with the commissioner.
“That’s a huge mistake,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. She sits on a state committee that reviewed DCS practices and policies.
In December, that committee blasted DCS for an audit that found DCS caseworkers were at times overwhelmed.
A scathing audit from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office reflects concerns felt by foster families across the state that too many caseworkers are overburdened with cases.
Johnson said what happened to the little girl is proof that the agency's problems aren't in the past.
"The commissioner needs to answer for that – and explain how it's never going to happen again," Johnson said.
News4 Investigates repeatedly asked for another interview with the commissioner and shared the family's emails.
Rob Johnson, a spokesman for DCS, said the Commissioner is prohibited, by state law, from discussing individual cases.
Johnson did email a statement, claiming the family is sharing wrong information and that the ten-year-old girl has never been substantiated for sexual behavior.
"In this instance, the department's extensive documentation does not support assertions made to the reporter by the foster parents. Our record shows that case managers closely followed department policy on disclosure requirements and foster-parent consideration prior to the child's placement, all in the interest of finding a good supportive home. The 10-year-old foster child has never been substantiated for sexual behavior. DCS strongly disputes this and other assertions the foster parents shared with WSMV. While the foster parents never contacted us directly, we did call and email them in an attempt to share our information. DCS policy requires a foster child's history, if available, to be discussed with foster parents prior to placement, and foster parents have the opportunity to make an informed decision on their willingness to accept the placement of a foster child.
Regarding your questions about follow-up investigations in such instances, severe abuse allegations are handled by a team, not by DCS alone. A Child Protection Investigative Team includes DCS investigators, forensic interviewers from the local Child Advocacy Center, plus representatives from the district attorney general's office and law enforcement, all of whom share information and review evidence at CPIT meetings," Johnson emailed.
Johnson said he could not comment further on the email shared with the family that indicated the girl had been investigated and that the accusations of sexual abuse were substantiated.
In December, the state committee voted, despite the audit, to allow DCS to continue with no further oversight. Johnson voted against it.
That same month, the foster father said his daughter started treatment for sex abuse.
"(A) six-year-old is telling us things that a 6 year old should never know," he said.