DCS

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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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.”

DCS turning over Mountain View juvenile penal center to private operator

The state Department of Children’s Services is moving to convert part of the Mountain View Youth penal center into a privately run treatment center, reports WBIR-TV.

Rob Johnson, DCS spokesman, stressed Thursday the Dandridge center itself will remain open. But the state argues that in its traditional role as a “secure” center for hardened juvenile offenders Mountain View is now underused. DCS announced the development Thursday afternoon.

The idea is to install a 60-bed “Level Three” center that would offer youth in custody more chances to learn job skills and get treatment. It would be “staff secure,” but would allow juveniles in custody more freedom to move around – without the perimeter razor wire that’s now in place.

Mountain View can accommodate 144 people; there are 39 there now, according to DCS.

“We have a really big need for these Level 3 beds,” Johnson said.

Mountain View is one of three such centers in Tennessee with elevated security designed to house serious offenders. In recent years, it’s been the site of escape attempts and assaults on staff members.

The trend is to de-emphasize the traditional state correction center and emphasize , when possible, more treatment-based options for juvenile offenders, according to Johnson.

Mountain View would keep a “hardware secure” area with up to 24 beds, the razor wire fence and steel doors. It would also be run by the private operator, which would lease Mountain View from the state.

…Johnson said DCS already contracts with almost 30 firms that provide services so it wouldn’t necessarily have to seek formal proposals in a bidding system for Mountain View.

Making the change, according to DCS, would free up $3 million for “prevention services” that would go to help reach young people to ensure they don’t end up in the juvenile justice system.

Note: The DCS press release is below.

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Bill & Crissy Haslam promote foster parenting program

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam on Monday launched TNFosters, an awareness campaign that will work with a variety of non-governmental organizations to encourage more Tennesseans to become foster parents.

TNFosters will also showcase innovative methods citizens have created to support foster parents and the children they serve, from a church that has built a safe room to a non-profit organization that helps celebrate foster children’s birthdays.

“Every child has the right to a loving family,” Gov. Haslam said. “Tennessee currently has well over 6,000 children in foster care, through no fault of their own. More than 4,000 incredible foster parents have stepped up to provide a safe and supportive environment to these children. At the same time, we are always looking for more foster families to help us get these children safe, healthy and back on track.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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