children

Fed funding of health insurance for 74,000 TN children threatened; TN Democrats see ‘political games’

Absent action soon by Congress, funding for a federal program that provides health insurance coverage to 74,000 Tennessee children and pregnant mothers could soon run dry, reports the Times Free Press. State officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam, are worried about the possibility.

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Conflict seen in TN laws to prevent child sexual abuse and to restrict sex education

Organizations pushing Tennessee schools to expand their child sexual abuse prevention efforts say they face resistance from educators worried about violating a state law putting restrictions on sex education classes, reports The Tennessean.

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Mayor’s daughter and her husband face murder charges in toddler son’s death

The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died after being left in a vehicle overnight at the Gatlinburg home of a Middle Tennessee mayor were arraigned Monday on felony murder charges, reports the News Sentinel.

Jade Elizabeth Phillips, 24, and her husband, Anthony Dyllan Phillips, 26… are accused of causing the death of their son, Kipp, by leaving the toddler inside a car overnight and into the afternoon of July 14 while temperatures soared into the 90s. The child’s official cause of death has not been made public.

Division lines between husband and wife are already being formed in what could become a defense blame game – typical when two people are charged in the same crime.

Jade Phillips, daughter of Westmoreland Mayor Jerry Kirkman, has posted her $250,000 bond and has hired veteran Knoxville defense attorney Tasha Blakney. She appeared in court Monday dressed in a black dress and gray sweater, her father seated beside her in the courtroom before Ogle took the bench.

Her husband was dressed in a black-and-white striped jail jumpsuit, unable to post bond. There was no one there on his behalf. Amber Haas, a veteran with the 4th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, was appointed to represent him. Anthony Phillips cast a glance at his wife as she was leaving the courtroom. She did not look in his direction.

Fed court oversight of DCS ends after 16 years

News release from the governor’s communications office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich today announced that after more than 16 years of system-wide reform and a massive turnaround, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is now free of federal court oversight.

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw has approved the historic agreement between the state and Children’s Rights, the New York-based advocacy group that in 2000 filed litigation known as the Brian A. lawsuit that charged that Tennessee youth in foster care suffered in an overburdened system, describing children in crowded congregate care shelters and social workers with overwhelming caseloads.

Tennessee now has a thoroughly reformed foster care system. The reform comes after years of collaboration with Children’s Rights and the Technical Assistance Committee, a panel of nationally recognized child welfare experts that served as the federal court monitor for the Brian A. consent decree.

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TN ranked 35th in well-being of children, overall state economy

Tennessee ranks 35th among states both in caring for children and in its overall state economy, according to separate studies making the media reporting circuit today. The timing of the releases of the reports is surely coincidental; but just maybe there’s some linkage between the state economy and child well-being?

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New ‘blue ribbon task force’ on juvenile justice system set up by speakers (Haslam gets a seat)

News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office

NASHVILLE – Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) this week announced the formation of the Joint Ad Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The task force will be co-chaired by Speaker Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

The task force will study, evaluate, analyze, and undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s juvenile justice system, using a data-driven approach. The members are charged with developing evidence-based policy recommendations that will lead to potential legislative action that will protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and contain costs while improving outcomes for youth and families in Tennessee.  Continue reading

Tennessee Human Rights Commission official charged with sexual exploitation

An official with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission was been arrested and charged with three counts of sexual exploitation of a child Tuesday, reports The Tennessean.

Christopher Matthew Stephenson is accused of possessing 226 items of material that includes minors engaging in sexual activity or simulated sexual activity.

One of the three felony charges has an aggravated enhancement related to the promotion, sale, distribution, transportation, purchase or exchange of such material. 

Stephenson serves as the Title VI Compliance Director on the Human Rights Commission and has worked for the organization for the last seven years. 

The commission exists to safeguard individuals from discrimination and to ensure the state’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Overcrowding has some kids sleeping on DCS office couches

Some kids in state custody are sleeping on couches in Department of Children’s Services offices or in a Nashville church because state officials cannot find a better place for them to stay, reports The Tennessean.

Davidson County Regional Administrator Tiwanna Woods said no more than 19 teenagers have slept in state offices or the church since the beginning of March — and no more than three teens on a single night. However, sources who work closely with DCS put the number of children higher – as many as 15 teenagers spending the night in offices or the church in just the past week, and as many as seven on a single night.

The reports come just as DCS nears the end of a 14-year federal lawsuit originally brought by children’s rights advocates over kids being place in emergency shelters or other inappropriate settings instead of foster care, group homes or residential treatment centers.

DCS Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich acknowledged the agency is facing challenges placing some of the teenagers coming into custody in appropriate residences. She said that most of the difficult-to-place cases involve delinquent teenagers and foster kids with behavioral or psychiatric problems. While there aren’t always enough spaces for them now, Hommrich said DCS is working to open 60 beds for therapeutic care in July at Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge, a facility for teenage boys who have committed multiple felonies. The new spots will be in a separate section of that facility.

“I think it breaks all of our hearts to see these kids and not be able to place them just like that,” Hommrich said. “It makes us determined for this (situation) to not drag on.”

Haslam on school bus seat belts: I’m not for the bill, but would sign it

Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill responding to a fatal school bus wreck in Chattanooga last year has been moved ahead without opposition but he’s staying out of a more controversial debate over whether the vehicles should be required to have seat belts, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor told reporters that his administration is “technical deferred” on HB395 by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga. His bill (HB322) won unanimous House approval Monday. Favors’ bill has cleared a couple of key committees on close votes, but still has a long way to go.

“I think there’s a big discussion back and forth in the Legislature,” Haslam said. “Deferred means if they pass it, we’ll sign it and figure out a way to fund it. But we’re not actively engaged in that one. The proposal we made was the proposal that we obviously wanted to make certain would happen.”

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Bill on school bus seat belts clears House panel 9-7

A bill requiring Tennessee school buses to be equipped with seat belts cleared the House Transportation Committee with a 9-7 vote Tuesday amid concerns over costs and other factors. The bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, (HB395) was prompted by a Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash that killed six Chattanooga children.

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