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'Horrific turnover' of Tennessee DCS caseworkers leads to request for budget increase

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Posted at 4:40 PM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 19:14:23-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nearly half of all caseworkers at the Department of Children's Services quit in the first year.

That's just one troubling statistic presented during budget hearings for the troubled agency.

DCS commissioner Margie Quin opened the hearing by showing a slide that demonstrated the need to hire and retain caseworkers.

"You'll see a pretty horrific turnover rate," Quin said.

One slide revealed more than 47% of DCS caseworkers left their job in the first year.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has showed how kids in DCS custody are sleeping in office buildings because there is no place else for them to go.

The lack of caseworkers handling cases only makes that problem worse.

"It's no secret that DCS has failed to hire and retain staff, and as a result has seen unusually high caseload averages throughout the state," Quin said.

Quin took over the job in September replacing the first commissioner appointed by Gov. Lee.

In Quin's first budget hearing, she asked for a $156 million increase of state and federal dollars.

Her request included more than $75 million from Tennessee.

It included $11 million to privatize case manager positions in some counties where it is hardest to hire new caseworkers.

She said the privatization would be temporary, and said Davidson is one county where it has been hard to hire new caseworkers.

The budget request also included $15 million to raise case manager salaries across the state.

"We think salary increases will help us in these urban areas that are so hard hit where it is very difficult to hire staff at the opening salary of $40,000 requiring a college degree," Quin said.

Quin said the starting salary at the Wilder Youth Development Center is currently $27,000 a year.

The budget proposal would raise the starting salary to $45,000 a year.

Lee must now review the proposal and decide how much to include in his upcoming budget.

"I would encourage us to move forward aggressively. We will evaluate these things based on the fact that we do have some real challenges here," Lee said.

But as NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported in the past year, some attorneys have talked about suing the state on behalf of foster kids who are not getting basic services.

It seems likely DCS will get more money — the question is will it be enough to fix some of its serious problems.