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Audit cites 'management failures' at DCS and confirms NewsChannel 5 Investigations

Severe staffing shortage has led to crisis at DCS
Posted at 1:22 PM, Dec 13, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A blistering state audit released today by the Tennessee Comptroller's office said the Department of Children's Services has failed to address problems that endanger children.

Auditors said the department is "struggling to provide support services to Tennessee's most vulnerable children and youth."

The audit claimed children across the state may be in unsafe situations because of the crisis unfolding at DCS.

The audit confirms much of what our NewsChannel 5 Investigates team has reported for more than a year.

Click here to read more from our investigations into DCS.

The audit blasted DCS management, saying the agency faces "a severe staffing shortage" yet management has not had a "sense of urgency to deal with this issue."

The report included pictures of where kids have slept in DCS office buildings beside case worker desks, and often with no bed.

Caseworker Terri Nelson spoke with NewsChannel 5 Investigates last year after being fired for releasing video of children sleeping in office buildings.

She said at the time people needed to see what was happening.

Today's audit said DCS should look at "better alternatives to office buildings for temporary placements."

It said in 2022 the turnover rate for caseworkers was 56% statewide.

But auditors said it was "alarmingly higher" in Davidson County where the turnover rate last year was 127%.

At budget hearings last month, the newly appointed DCS commissioner, Margie Quin, asked Governor Bill Lee for more money to increase caseworker salaries.

"It's very difficult to staff at an opening salary of $40,000 a year requiring a college degree," Quin said.

The audit detailed how caseworkers struggled to place one teenage boy in foster care.

Caseworkers made 49 different calls to foster families but were turned down each time.

The number of foster homes in Tennessee has fallen since the pandemic, while the number of kids needing a home has risen.

The report also claimed "DCS did not investigate 34 allegations of sexual abuse and harassment within resident facilities," saying children may have remained in unsafe situations.

DCS pushed back on that finding and said it has investigated cases of sexual abuse.

Governor Bill Lee said in Budget hearings last month he was open to increased funding at DCS, but this audit reaffirms that major changes are needed.

The audit looked into the performances of selected programs and activities between August 1, 2020, and August 31, 2022.

According to the report, the children's safety and well-being have been put into jeopardy due to the department's many management failures. The report says these failures include the following:

  • Identify the risks DCS faces and develop an impactful strategic plan to address both long-standing and current issues
  • Curtail the escalating turnover of case managers, which has led to ever-increasing caseloads, and prioritize hiring strategies to fill case manager vacancies
  • Expand long-term placement options and set standards for consistent quality of facilities for children placed in temporary settings
  • Fully respond to child abuse and neglect allegations, including sexual abuse and sexual harassment, regardless of the child’s placement, and especially in all residential facilities
  • Ascertain ways to overcome a failing case management system

In response, Sen. Heidi Campbell (D) Nashville and Rep. Gloria Johnson (D) Knoxville have launched a website to document potential issues within DCS.

The website serves as a timeline detailing ongoing issues, legislation and reporting related to problems within DCS.

NewsChannel 5 is actively digging into the 164-page audit and will update you with more information.

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