With Children’s Services in chaos, Democrats urge Gov. Bill Lee to accelerate reforms to protect kids
Letter cites department’s staffing crisis and the death of a toddler as cause for immediate action
NASHVILLE — Democrats who have sounded alarms about vulnerable children falling through the cracks of a department staffing crisis are asking the governor to speed up reforms at the Department of Children’s Services.
In a letter signed by 11 state lawmakers, Democrats say kids are dying and suffering additional trauma due to the staffing crisis and that solutions should not be put off until the next budget year, which begins in July 2023.
The letter comes just days after the DCS commissioner described staff turnover as “horrific” and FOX 17 Nashville reported on the recent death of a toddler who had lived at a homeless camp. The toddler’s grandfather says he warned DCS about her living conditions in March, but the pleas for help were ignored.
The letter, from Sen. Heidi Campbell’s office, is co-signed by Rep. Gloria Johnson, House minority leader Karen Camper, House Democratic caucus chairman Vincent Dixie, Rep. Bill Beck, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Rep. Bo Mitchell, Rep. Antonio Parkinson, Sen. Sara Kyle, Sen. London Lamar and Sen. Charlane Oliver.
Here is the text of the letter:
As conditions for children under custody of the Department of Children Services continue to worsen, it is apparent that budgetary measures alone are not sufficient to address the crisis. The department is already severely under-staffed with over 486 unfilled case-worker positions statewide, and a 47.7% turnover rate for first-year case managers thus far this year.
For several years our children have been bearing the brunt of our disorganized and underfunded program. With a deficiency in volunteer foster home opportunities, children are regularly moved from facilities, forced to sleep in inappropriate environments such as on office floors, and are now being hospitalized because of the adverse effects of our custodial malpractice.
As you know, DCS Commissioner Margie Quin has characterized conditions as “horrific” and per the budgetary meeting last week has requested a $156M increase in funding for the next fiscal year, which will begin in July. While an increase in funding next year is certainly necessary, something must be done to address the DCS emergency in the interim.
The opportunity costs and externalities alone—with increased hospitalization, mental health, and criminal justice demands—over the next seven months seem inadvisable even if we look at this purely from a financial perspective.
The recent death of Ariel Rose, a toddler living in a homeless encampment at Brookemeade Park, is just one of many tragic outcomes that have resulted from our state’s inability to care for children. DCS employees have reported numerous abuse cases that have not been addressed because of staff limitations.
For our state to ignore the needs of children in our custody the same year that we have enacted a policy that requires women to give birth, with no exceptions, is simply cruel.
We currently have billions in reserve, and our negligence is indefensible. We respectfully request that you provide interventional remediation immediately for the sake of our children.