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Private home will 'change the way foster care begins' for kids in DCS custody

Work begins on first Isaiah House in Davidson County
Posted at 5:05 PM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 21:03:26-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Private donors are stepping up to keep kids from spending the night in state office buildings.

They are working with the Department of Children's Services so that abused and neglected children who come into state custody have a temporary place to go when caseworkers cannot immediately find a foster home for them.

For months, NewsChannel 5 Investigates highlighted how the lack of foster parents has forced many kids to sleep in state offices.

But this week we got an exclusive look at a Davidson County home workers will transform into a place where caseworkers can take kids.

It's an old house in bad shape, but a group of volunteers has big plans.

Lori Paranjape is an interior designer going over details to renovate the home.

"We'll have a brand new front of the house," Paranjape said as she looked at architectural drawings.

"Our very important DCS workers will be in this glass office so they can always have eyes on the kids while they are working," Paranjape continued.

The home was built in 1964 and is near the Davidson County juvenile court.

A judge put the home up for auction after the owner died, and it fell into disrepair.

A church bought it and donated it to Isaiah 117 House, which is a nonprofit that works closely with DCS and has 10 homes like this already open across the state.

Corey Paulson co-founded Isaiah 117 House after he and his wife learned that abused and neglected kids often sleep in state office buildings.

"It literally changes the way foster care begins, but more importantly it changes a story for a kid because they never forget removal day," Paulson said.

This home will take up to eight kids plus give them clothes and a bed.

It's the first one in Davidson County.

DCS commissioner Margie Quin told lawmakers this month children no longer sleep in state office buildings with the exception of Memphis.

"We have 25 transitional homes and Isaiah Houses with beds and showers, and we are close to a solution in Shelby County as well," Commissioner Quin said.

But internal emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show the department is still having trouble placing kids in foster homes.

We found already overworked caseworkers in some parts of the state must sign up for "5 shifts total for the month with at least one of those shifts to be on the weekend" to essentially babysit kids in transitional homes.

"We have increased sitter rates to $45.00 an hour to attract more sitters," Commissioner Quin told lawmakers in December.

She said DCS is paying outside sitter agencies to help watch kids.

But this month the Department touted a drop in open caseworker positions.

Last year, there were 600 open positions. It is now at 397.

The general contractor for the Davidson County Isaiah House is Jason Phillips.

Phillips had a foster child and he's donating his time to this project.

"Everything you see that looks bad we were planning on taking that out anyway," Phillips said.

"Whatever we can do with this house to bring a comfort level to those initial 24 hours I think is critical," Phillips said.

Some question why the state doesn't just pay for these homes.

Isaiah 117 House said private donors help make the homes more sustainable in the long run and they avoid red tape.

This house shows after a bunch of bad news, there is progress.

The volunteers hope to have the home open in the next few months.