NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A new state audit of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services uses the word “crisis” 17 times and reports that children in DCS custody have been left in danger.
“The safety, permanency, and well-being of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children is in jeopardy,” wrote the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury in the audit report.
The report highlights problems plaguing the department relating to caseloads, staff turnover, child placement, child health and child safety.
According to the audit, there has been a 7% increase in children in DCS custody over the past four years, but there was a 17% decline in case managers to care for them at that same time.
“Case manager turnover and employee vacancies at DCS have reached crisis levels while
the number of children entering DCS custody continues to rise. Top leadership must take more aggressive action to hire and retain case managers or risk the safety of vulnerable children who slip through the cracks because there is no one to help them,” wrote auditors.
The audit finds one of the main reasons for case manager turnover was the workload.
Despite state laws limiting the number of cases a case manager can take on, the study found eight of DCS’s 12 regions exceeded the 20-case average. In addition, the average caseload in Davidson County was more than double the required number.
“The case manager turnover has created impossible caseloads across the board. Some are on call every week, causing so much paperwork that it makes it getting normal work duties impossible. We are asked to sit with custodial children after hours on a daily basis,” wrote one case worker.
The report also details the extent to which children in DCS custody were staying in temporary settings including transitional houses and office floors because of a shortage of long-term placement options.
One region had a child in an office building for 24 night, and there were a total of more than 200 overnight stays in offices, according to the audit.
“Even though regional management increased child placement in temporary settings since 2019, top management was not aware of the number and location of all children staying in temporary settings. In April 2022, the Commissioner required daily reporting by the regions of all temporary child placements,” the report found.
On child safety, the audit found that children may have been left in unsafe situations because of a lack or delay in management actions.
“Our review of management’s response to sexual abuse and sexual harassment allegations, however, disclosed that DCS did not investigate all reported incidents of suspected sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or consensual sexual activity between children living in residential facilities,” the auditors claim.
According to the audit, there were 34 instances out of 211 in 2021 where the department did not investigate allegations of sexual abuse or harassment.
DCS management “partially” agreed with the findings but added that all allegations were appropriately investigated.
“DCS did not follow up with local law enforcement to ensure law enforcement was investigating all cases to resolution,” the department’s management writes.
The report also says that DCS needs to improve the background check process, ensure timely dental and medical screenings for children, and make monthly supervision contacts with children, families, schools and service providers.
To read the full audit, click here.