NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The issues facing the Department of Children’s Services in Tennessee have been well-chronicled, but soon, some relief could be on the way.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga) filed HB0011 late last week. “It’s pretty basic and what it deals with is staffing within DCS,” he said.
The bill is pretty straightforward. Currently, the law says caseworkers cannot exceed an average of twenty cases at a time. If the General Assembly passes the bill, it would make it a hard cap of 20 cases per worker, rather than an average.
“There’s a crisis when it comes to staffing, and the people we do have, in my view, are being overburdened,” Hakeem said.
The bill would almost certainly require DCS to hire a significant number of workers, something it says it’s had a huge issue with since its starting salary is $27,000.
“Bottom line, this is dealing with salaries, also,” Hakeem said.
The issue is not a new one. The department has been pleading for more money for months, including at the governor’s budget hearings last month.
News 2 asked Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) if he’d support Hakeem’s bill in the General Assembly.
“What’s most important to me is that we get the caseworkers that we need to address the needs of the kids in this state,” Lee said. “We owe it to the kids in this state.”
Though he wouldn’t say exactly what his solution was or when it was coming, Lee said discussions are ongoing. “Look, we have a real challenge there,” he said. “But we’re going to fix that problem.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Hakeem.
“We have children that are sleeping in offices and other areas of that nature, some being hospitalized for up to 100 days. It says that there’s a crisis, and we need to respond to it,” he said. “We have the means to respond to this crisis within the state of Tennessee.”