NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Six months removed from a searing Comptroller audit last December, the Dept. of Children’s Services (DCS) now appears to be in a much better situation.
“I’ve been here 11 years and this has been the most encouraging DCS meeting that I’ve sat through,” Rep. Mary Littleton (R-Dickson) said during a Thursday hearing.
The department presented its findings to a Government Operations Joint Subcommittee on Education, Health, and General Welfare. The move comes after legislative committees previously required a six-month check-in after the audit.
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This time around, it was positive.
Two of the biggest changes have been a 10-case cap for first-year managers and a significant raising of base pay to $50,000 with a flex to $54,000 after.
“That $50,000 start pay is a big draw,” DCS Commissioner Margie Quin said. “It’s a big number.”
Vacancies are down 46%, according to Quin, marking a serious change from last year when children were sleeping in offices and workers were handling dozens of cases each. The state recommendation for cases per worker is 20.
For first-year workers, the commissioner instituted a 10-cap maximum. The issue now is working the number of cases down for veterans.
Though the department is on the right track, Quin admitted there’s still room for improvement.
“I still think we’re trying to beat down that number of vacancies. We’re trying to beatdown that number, that caseload average,” she said. “Morale in the department, we’re still self-correcting.”
Sen. Heidi Campbell said the changes Quin has implemented have clearly made a difference.
“I applaud this new commissioner for doing everything she can to try and turn a corner,” Campbell said. “We have had several iterations of people in that position who don’t have institutional knowledge, and that’s really important because DCS has been broken for a long time.”
Though Campbell, a Nashville mayoral candidate, argued the changes Quin has made don’t do enough.
“While I think there have been some changes that will make a difference in kids’ lives, it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” Campbell said.
DCS has shared issues beyond case numbers, most notably a controversial choice in Coffee County when it took children into custody after a traffic stop revealed the parents had cannabis.
Campbell said the department has issues seeing children as equal.
“I think that we need to look at early childhood intervention, making sure that we are not treating children in the Department of Children’s Services as if they’re perps,” she said.
Campbell noted it doesn’t fall on Quin but instead, the entire department, which she said needs an overhaul.
Regardless, Quin couldn’t hide a positive outlook even though there’s still a long path ahead.
“Six months ago, people were not looking at this agency and thinking, ‘I want to work there,’” she said. “People internal weren’t thinking, ‘I want to get promoted.’”
The department has another hearing closer to the end of the year as a 12-month checkup.