NASHVILLE, TN – Families who came to testify before the House Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee on Wednesday February 9, 2022 were not allowed to address lawmakers. Committee Chairwoman Mary Littleton had a list of speakers two days before the meeting, as required, but Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton did not approve them. So they sat in the audience waiting for a chance to speak that never came.

DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols showed a video presentation to lawmakers highlighting DCS operations and she outlined future plans for the department that keeps asking for more money every year while it has been taking more children into custody every year. 

Several DCS officials also briefed the committee. Among them were Sandra Wilson, Deputy Commissioner of Child Programs, Martha Shirk HR Director, and General Counsel Doug Dimond. Nine Republicans and two Democrats attended the hearing.

The Republicans were quite solicitous to the DCS brass, told them what a hard job they had to do, and Rep. John Rick Eldridge offered Nichols some advice: recruit from 2-year colleges to find more workers. DCS does hire workers with a 2-year degrees but casework requires a Bachelor’s degree. DCS has 554 empty positions. 

“Three or four times Nichols told the committee to give them a call if any of their constituents was having a problem and they would find a solution. That is such baloney,” said Connie Reguli, a Family Law attorney who handles a lot of DCS cases.

Reguli said Representative Jason Hodges called Nichol’s office and met with DCS officials about a case in Montgomery County last year.

“They made him sign a confidentiality agreement that he would not disclose any of the meeting details with the family and he was not allowed to bring any member of the family with him. It was all one-sided,” Reguli said. 

There has been progress in the case in spite of, not because of, DCS intervention. In fact, DCS prolonged the case unnecessarily and harassed the parents by having felony arrest warrants issued against them. The Tribune confirmed with Montgomery County District Attorney Robert Nash that DCS misled his office and when he found out, he withdrew the warrants. (See https://tntribune.com/twas-the-night-before-christmas/)

Nichols presented a number of slides showing custody numbers, number of foster homes, and calls to the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline. She didn’t tell lawmakers the number of children who entered DCS custody and the number who exited custody back to their birth families last year. DCS has not disclosed those numbers publicly since 2013-14. 

“The majority of children who enter DCS custody, actually about 80%, are reunited with their families,” Nichols told the committee. According to the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), Tennessee’s reunification rate was between 55.2%-57.8% in years 2015-2019.

DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols testifying at a Children & Family Affairs hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 at the Cordell Hull office building. She told the committee that 80% of children are returned to their parents. According to Child Trends, the most recent reunification rate in Tennessee is 47%.

The Tribune used statistics Nichols presented to the committee to verify her 80% reunification figure.

Here’s the math: 8,932 children in custody, up from 8,829 last year; Nichols said the number of children in foster care was 8,211 in Feb. 2021 and 8,359 in Feb. this year; she said 1,764 kids did not go into foster care because they were placed with relatives or family friends; adoptions have been running around 1200 per year for several years. But there are more kids (1764) waiting for adoption than actually adopted. If you keep subtracting these numbers what you get is a maximum of 2,493 children who could have been reunified with their families last year.

According to the DCS 2013-14 annual report, 3,545 kids were reunited with their parents. Eight years later, DCS is returning at most 2,500. That is 1,000 fewer reunifications.  

Nichols decried the lack of foster homes to take care of kids they take into custody. Apparently, it’s a common problem in many states. 

Why does DCS keep taking kids into custody when there aren’t enough foster homes to take them? And why isn’t DCS doing a better job of reuniting kids with their parents?  

The families who came to speak have stories about what happened to them and they have answers to both those questions. First, if you are taking more kids into custody than you can care for, maybe you should stop taking so many children into custody. Secondly, if you stopped wrongfully taking our children in the first place, if you stopped using permanency plans and stopped delaying court hearings to block parents from getting their kids back, maybe you wouldn’t be so embarrassed about your dismal reunification numbers. 

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12 Comments

  1. I am disappointed that Gov Lee’s promise of a more transparent and accountable government has been a miserable failure. I was told after his inauguration that one of the first tasks was an oversight committee for DCS. Instead the committee has shut out the citizens that are mistreated. There will be more to come. Keep watching.

    1. So true Connie! I agree whole heartedly! He’s got to do something to help and protect us! No more kids for cash! Stop putting a price on my son!

  2. DCS traffics children for profit! What kind of evil entity makes profit at the expense of destroying children and families? Oh, I know the answer; the department of children’s services! We cry out to our Governor Lee, we beg and plead with him and our cries go on heard while our children and family suffer!!! This is nothing more than legalized slavery! And the greatest evil is the Tennessee government incentivizes the brutal snatching away of children from their families to place them on DCS’s auction block! As the poor and helpless standby defenseless against this evil system that uses the police department as a brute force to carry out their evil agenda! Something has to be done about this incredible evil! DCS is evil! I am calling a spade a spade! I have reached out to our governor repeatedly and like thousands of other citizens he has ignored us! I do hope that in this election we can get someone in office who genuinely cares about the welfare of our children and the families who love them!

  3. This article further proves that we the people will never have a voice when it comes to honest accountability within dcs. Since when is using brought statistics journalism? All around failure, lack of concern and in my opinion big sign to tell we the people we don’t matter

    1. Fran,

      You misunderstand the role of the press re: stats. We can point out ones that seem wrong but can’t make them up just to suit a certain viewpoint.

  4. The governor continues to ignore the cries of these children and families as they suffer through this hell! It is time to get this man out, and get someone in that genuinely cares for these children and families! Call his comment line, and let your voices be heard! He will ignore you, but it will give you more reason to ignore him come this election! 615-741-2001

  5. Well it isn’t too much better in Illinois but our legislators Republican and Democrats alike are really upset with DCFS in Illinois and there are two full commissions running asking questions and demanding answers. Maybe the same should happen in Tennessee these people are blind to the true issues.

  6. The family that the front warrants were filed one was mine. They filed the warrants on my daughter, an active duty Army soldier and my son in law, a veteran. Luckily I am a legal advocate who knew what to do to have the warrants with drawn. I will not rest until Jennifer Nichols and all of her hinchmen are fired or arrested. Mary Littleton, was beyond wrong for not allowing us to address OUR legislators. We went to the general counsel to get a copy of this so called new policy that gives the speaker discretion to mute the voices of the citizens….we have yet to receive a copy of that policy. I am requesting an ethical complaint to be filed against her and a BAR complaint against the General Counsel.

  7. This is a problem. There is always talk about issues children face when they are not raised in a two parent home. Let’s talk about the trauma and PTSD caused by children being raised in foster care. Let’s make it clear, not all children have loved one that are able to care for them. However, what about the children that do? DCS will allow that family member to go through the process only to be denied in the end. Stating the bond/connection that child has with the foster family. That could be true. However, it is a bond that was forced by DCS and there failure to properly investigate and their failure to notify and place children with relatives. If DCS truly cared about the best interest of children, they would not primarily focus on foster care and/or adoption. How about they use those funds to focus on family services and reunification. How about they assist families that would like to care for children, but they do not have the resources or financial means. In that General Assembly meeting, the primary focus was on foster care and what foster parents need. If you are focused on trying to appeal to more people to be foster parents, then you are definitely not focused on reunification with parent or relatives. DCS let’s be transparent. Show us the number of children that were reunified with their parents or relatives. Show us proof of the services provided to the parents. Show us the investigations you completed to warrant these children being removed from their parents. Do you investigate/harass these foster parents like you do the biological parents? Let me answer, NO. If you did, you would find that you are placing some children in a worse situation than you removed them from.

  8. Everyone needs a voice. We need transparency and day light on all governmental agencies with no exceptions. Day light is the greatest antiseptic to government corruption

  9. Senator Nancy Schaefer, warned Congress that CPS/DCF is in fact a Racketeering Enterprise. Now CPS/DCF has full authority over guardianships. Guardianship is where the government has custody of you,, controls you, owns your assets, owns you.Please join Facebook Business Page: USA Citizens Guardianship Task Force LLC. We must all work together before we all are own by the State we live in. If you want to learn the facts about guardianships on how it will effect every American families in the United States, once Florida Senate Bill 1032 & HR 845 both passes. Please contact us.

  10. It is important to understand what Peter White has done with this story. By going the extra mile as a journalist to take the “figures” provided by state officials and expose them as lies he has made an important contribution. His work requires us to make the same effort and draw the correct conclusions.
    The DCS officials are liars and have been exposed. They will look you right in the eye and lie. Not only are they liars but the members of the legislative committee overseeing their actions, both the Republican majority and the Democratic minority, are guilty of aiding and abetting these crimes against children.
    Like so many careerists and their elected enablers they will lay low until the winds stop blowing, safe in the knowledge that neither DCS, Bill Lee nor the Nashville and state media will pick up the gauntlet that the Tennessee Tribune and Peter White have hurled down.
    Do not forget or forgive.

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