NASHVILLE, TN – In its recently concluded session, the Tennessee General Assembly failed to pass any measures to reform operations at the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

A proposal to allow for a second medical assessment in cases when kids are removed from the family home based on one expert medical opinion was not put in front of Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee.

In Texas, parents who are suspected of physically harming their children are entitled to a second medical opinion. Prior to September 2021, doctors contracted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were the only ones who  decided which injuries were accidents and which were abuse. That practice has resulted in the wrongful taking of kids in Tennessee. (see Xmas)

Another proposal to have a family advocate appointed at the beginning of a DCS case was introduced by Representative Terri Lynn Weaver, a Republican from DeKalb County. Mary Littleton, Chairwoman of the Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee took it off the calendar, effectively killing it.

“Parents have every constitutional right over their kids, period, ” Weaver said. She said that an advocate who is present at all proceedings related to a DCS investigation can keep parents from getting mowed over by the system.

“At times the court system doesn’t get it right and so it’s vital that we do all that we can to keep families together. Reunification is the key,” she said.

Time limits on DCS adjudications did not come to a full House vote. Jason Powell, (D, House District 53) introduced a six-month time limit and it passed the subcommittee but didn’t get out of Civil Justice Committee. So it died.

According to Powell, DCS objected to the bill because there is already a 30-day rule regarding time limits for hearings after a child is taken into custody. DCS routinely extends cases beyond 15 months that allows them to sue for termination of parental rights.

“There is a rule but they never enforce the rule, so there has to be a statute,” said Family Law Attorney Connie Reguli. 

Representative Clay Doggett (R, Lawrenceburg) tried to get rid of anonymous reporting on the Child Abuse Hotline. He couldn’t drum up enough support so he changed his bill to require some sort of corroborating evidence before DCS can obtain an ex parte order from a judge to remove a child from the family home. That version was sent to Summer Study in the Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee and never came to a vote.

Representative Gloria Johnson (D, Knoxville) introduced a bill requiring the department to maintain staffing levels of case managers so that each region would  not exceed an average of 12 active cases relating to initial assessments, 12 children monitored and supervised relating to ongoing in-home services, or 13 children in active cases in which the children are in out-of-home placements relating to ongoing services. The bill failed to pass in the Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee.

“Sixteen million was the fiscal note,” Johnson said. “They can give $500 million to the stadium but you can’t give $16 million to Tennessee’s vulnerable kids,” she said.

The national standard caseload for social workers is 12. Many states have passed caseload limits, including Indiana, Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Maryland. “They have far more successes with the children. The families are very happy about what’s going on. Their outcomes are great and their employees are sane. Their employees are feeling valued and they are able to take care of the kids on their caseload,” Johnson said.

She said it is nearly impossible for Democratic lawmakers to move legislation because for every Democrat on a committee or subcommittee there are two Republicans. The House Speaker determines who and how many members are assigned to various house committees. Ditto with Senate committees. Lt. Governor Randy McNally makes those calls on the Senate side.

“They stop every single one of the bills they want to stop in subcommittee,” Johnson told the Tribune.

She said if there is something a Republican representative likes about a Democratic proposal, they are likely to steal it and put it in a Republican-sponsored bill. It happened to her last year with an education bill.

If there was ever a cause worth crossing the aisle for, children’s welfare would be the one. But neither Democrats nor Republicans joined hands to set standards and press for changes at the troubled department.

“It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse,” Johnson said.

For the first time, the DCS budget increased in 2021-2022 to just over a billion dollars. The budget will increase an additional $100 million in 2022-23. 

Join the Conversation


  1. DCS opts not to make changes out of fear of lawsuits brought about by families. Allowing a family advocate throughout the process will evidence the huge difference between DCS policy, state laws, and field practice. There are obstacles to changes everywhere, from appointed leaders who have little room to make significant reforms out of fear of terminating ineffective veteran Team Leaders and team Coordinators and veteran DCS frontline workers. The last two groups feel they have the most to lose if their schemes to defraud the state government is exposed, and they can make hiring and retention a nightmare for DCS Directors.

    It would take federal intervention to expose the pervasive corruption in DCS offices around the nation. Bureaucrat culture based on power and following a chain of command will forge environments that facilitate abuse of power. This environment will also nurture a culture of silence, an “us versus them” mentality, dereliction of duties, and a hotbed for people who look the other way when their coworkers fail to follow policy.

    The first warning sign that institutional corruption exists is the employee support for differences between policy and practice. Trainers and DCS attorneys have become so shameless that their support for practices that do not follow policy is discussed in the open.

    DCS employees can have a second job or run their private practice during DCS working hours.

    DCS employees are permitted to attend school full time during DCS working hours.

    Upon hiring, the new employee is made aware that they can attend school functions and take their sick family members to doctors’ appointments during DCS work hours.

    Since there is an absence of Team Leaders and Team Coordinators present during normal business hours, the number of breaks is abused, and employees claim to be working but are instead at home, shopping- every time I’d call my Team Coordinator during working hours, I’d hear the cash register in the background. My Team “Leader” is addicted to opioids and often sends text messages from her private phone claiming that she took her blood pressure pills, and that alone will rend her basically unconscious where she will fall asleep and not hear the phone ring. This same employee plays the State by claiming her problem is from a stroke she had during working hours. At the same time, the State pays her to sleep on the clock, go to medical appointments- on the clock, and go to her son’s basketball games. The TC for Bradley, McMinn, and Polk stays answering calls that her TL should be taking but don’t take because they are busy sleeping, shopping, working elsewhere during normal business hours, or in school. I’ve observed Case Managers call three different Team Leaders and even the Team Coordinator to staff cases because their Team Leader did not answer the call although they claim to be on the clock. I’m not sure why the State doesn’t start making use of technology and check on GPS locations during working hours, and the call longs for missed calls from other DCS numbers and other (personal) numbers.

    In TN, DCS employees work 37.5 per week, not including 2.5 hours of break time. If you take a break, I did about four times during the last time I worked there. You WILL get behind. That is to say, TN DCS ought to increase the normal working hours to 40 hours per week to account for the loss of 2.5 hours of employee breaks per week. DCS around the nation ought to consider a 12-hour schedule to improve efficiency.

    DCS employees gin the system by waiting until the last minute to make the home or school visits and then making home visits during the caretaker’s normal business hours to make an excuse to go home early or start their day later. Waiting until the last minute to meet response times is one of the causes of high caseloads.

    DCS employees are not required to plan their weeks and days. The excuse is that they don’t know what the day will bring. That excuse really translates to, “I don’t know if I’ll be in the mood to leave the office on any given day” and “if something personal comes up, I don’t have to explain why I didn’t meet my scheduled plans.” I worked DCS investigations for a full year before leaving, and my normal caseload was usually less than ten active investigations and no more than 3-to 5 “follow-through” cases. Cases beyond the 30 days where I had to make sure the family plan was being carried out before closing the case. Although at time things can get unpredictable, we can always plan our work weeks and days without sharing with families what we plan to do.

    For example, my default mode of operating as a DCS employee is reading all relevant DCS policies for my position. The policy trainings we get from the Department is a joke. DCS policy trainers are more than happy to end trainings early- with the exception of one great trainer, Andrea Graves, are unprepared to answer questions they should have the answers to since they instruct on policy and have all been there for more than 3 years in their position, and they zoom through policy without verifying DCS employees understood what they were taught. This means that I literally read every DCS policy I was responsible for knowing, and those that affect how I perform my duties- relevant policies related to transferring my case to foster care.

    Once I’ve been given cases I can investigate on my own, I would read up on the background of the family, create an investigation strategy, and go out and see the child- typically at school. Although we are not able to share information, we can ask the child’s teachers about the student’s grades, attendance, and behavior at school. Teachers interested in helping or that might be biased against the child in question will be forthcoming with information about how the student comes to school, what they find concerning, or share personal information about the family- like the parents are getting a divorce, or what kind deed they have done to help the family. I listen instead of being disrespectful and taking copious notes as if a machine is talking to me. Doing that stifles engagement. – Some Team Leaders and Team Coordinators want to stifle engagement because the more a DCS employee knows about the family, the more liable the Department becomes should the DCS employee take shortcuts and not provide needed in home or community services. Personally, I like to learn as much as I can so I can verify information and provided needed services from community nonprofit organizations who are begging for clients to serve.

    The handwritten notes were completed in the car or in the office because most of the notes taken were dotted down using informal shorthand. Important points are written out. There are DCS employees who have been with DCS for years who do not take notes. They also do not enter their notes into TFACTS or unto any type of document to recall what was stated.

    The same day I see the child I made the home visit. I can only imagine the stress some children might have of having talked to a stranger about their family and then being too afraid to share that information. Or the child that goes home and tells the parent they spoke with someone that went to school who asked them questions about their family, and the parent get angry, removes illicit drugs kept on the table, and a host of things that can affect the investigation.

    My strategy for talking to caregivers is one that is no confrontational. My job is to listen and make sure that I understood the complaint on the referral. If the family’s problem can be resolved with services, get them to buy into services so I don’t have to go out there again or have another DCS worker get a referral on the same family for the same reasons I’ve been out there. If there is nothing to the complaint, wait to make sure there is nothing to it and go out before the end of 30 days and close it. If the child is in danger, it was my responsibility to make sure the risk would be substantially reduced or eliminated while the child stays in their home, or remove with placement with secure family members. All notes were entered no later than 2 days after meeting with the family.

    I would start the process upon return to the office for medical records, mental health records, police reports, etc. When the Department was most busy, a new referral would come in every two days. Before meeting that referral, my notes were entered. Before taking time off, my investigations and notes were up-to-date. Before going out of town on trainings, my investigations and notes were up-to-date.

    Once I determined I’ve talked to everyone and my notes were entered, my supervisor was responsible to reviewing the cases and signing off on them. If I needed to interview more people, I would get that done. Enter my notes, let her review the notes, and close or transfer the case upon approval. It’s not that hard to maintain a low caseload IF the DCS employee is WORKING during normal business hours or during any time they claim they are working.

    The problem is that no one wants to perform their duties or they run good employees out for bullshit reasons. For example, not being able to get certified when certification depends on whether the Team Leader or the lazy, policy violating, power hungry DCS employee wants to to be on their team. How do you know when that happens? You look at the quality of information obtained by the new employee, their requests for information, and how timely information was gathered and entered.

    I’m going to say it again. Most of the 20 something year olds hired by DCS will do anything to have a job. They are intimidated by one particular Team Leader in Bradley County who pops pills and stays home. She intimidated them with stories about incidents in juvenile detention and acts of violence against her family members. These employees have no recourse because this TL tells the TC what to do. That still blows my mind.

    There are 101 ways to gin the system and the State not know. I’ll write about it someday.

  2. 30 day adjudications?!? What a joke. We’re over 2 years and still no adjudication hearing even scheduled. The only party likely to gain custody now is the US Bureau of Prisons given the criminality involved.

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