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State auditors blast DCS for overburdened caseworkers

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - 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.

The audit comes just as an investigation by News4 of foster families showing documentation that children with violent and sexual histories were placed in their homes without the Department of Children’s Services disclosing their past.

As a result, parents said their homes were damaged and in one case a van was stolen and set on fire.

Families told News4 Investigates that they believe their caseworkers were overburdened with too many cases and were desperately trying to place children in homes, even if it meant not being upfront about the children’s histories.

The average number of caseloads for a caseworker in Tennessee is supposed to be 20.

“Our case workers have 40 cases. 40!” said John Hageman, a DCS foster parent.

In fact, auditors with the Comptroller’s Office found 35 instances of where DCS caseworkers had 40 cases.

“The department’s data shows that anywhere from 18 to 28 percent of those case managers had more than 20 cases,” said John Dunn, spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office. “When too many cases are assigned to a case manager, that manager will not have the time in every instance to devote to those children.”

DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said because of staff turnover and some children literally arriving overnight in some cases, there will be times when caseworkers have beyond 20 cases.

“There are always going to be outliers where people are going to have more cases than they should. That’s due to a number of different issues,” said Nichols.

In the committee hearing, lawmakers suggested that perhaps the law needed to be changed to specifically identify how often DCS should be checking workers’ caseloads.

Nichols said they are already checking the caseloads once a month to keep track.

The committee voted to allow DCS to continue operating, something that state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said left her shaken.

“I have deep concerns about this department,” said Johnson. “I was disgusted. I was scared for those kids and I didn’t feel good about what we did in there.”

 
 

Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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