DCS Continues to Sustain Progress Since Exit from Lawsuit, New Report Shows

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, dkessel@childrensrights.org

 

(Nashville, TN) — A new External Accountability Center report shows that Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) continues to sustain progress made during the 17-year effort to reform its child welfare system.

This is the second in a series of three reports created by an External Accountability Center as part of the final, 18-month public reporting phase of the Brian A. v. Haslam settlement agreement. In July 2017, Chief U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., determined that DCS had sustained performance on more than 140 mandated benchmarks for reform. In a landmark decision, the state was granted exit from court oversight in Brian A v. Haslam—a federal class action lawsuit brought to overhaul the state’s foster care system.

The External Accountability Center’s second report covers the six-month period from July 1 through December 31, 2017. The report found that DCS’s performance “is similar to past performance,” maintaining the improvements that allowed the state to exit court oversight nearly a year ago.

Key findings of the External Accountability Center include:

  • Investigating child maltreatment: More than 95% of reported cases of child maltreatment resulted in DCS staff establishing face-face contact with the alleged child victim within the recommended timeframe.
  • Families and not facilities for children under 6: The use of group facilities (also known as congregate care) for children under six years old remains minimal: in the last two years, only “four children under the age of six experienced congregate care placement.”
  • DCS Caseworker Caseloads: Along with improvements in the quality of care children receive, more than 90% of Foster Care Family Service Workers in the state have caseloads within the applicable threshold, and

“We commend DCS for upholding major progress in these reforms,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “There will always be challenges and stressors on the system, but these are crucial improvements that make a real difference for the children of Tennessee, and we know that state officials will make every effort to ensure the system keeps moving forward.”

As an additional measure of public accountability over DCS even after successful exit from the improvement requirements of Brian A., the External Accountability Center reporting aims to show how well DCS is serving children in foster care, and how to strengthen the systems DCS uses to track its own performance. Today’s report is the second of three issued every six months since exit. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a leading national policy and research center, is carrying out the majority of External Accountability Center functions, as it strengthens DCS’s quality assurance functions and its ability to utilize data to improve its management of the child welfare system.

In addition to this report, Chapin Hall will issue two special reports on racial disparities in the system in the coming months, and a third, final report toward the end of the year.

Children’s Rights and Tennessee co-counsel filed Brian A. v. Haslam in May 2000 on behalf of all foster children in state custody. The Tennessee co-counsel team includes Jacqueline Dixon of Weatherly, McNally & Dixon in Nashville; David Raybin of Raybin & Weissman in Nashville; Wade Davies of Ritchie, Dillard, Davies & Johnson in Knoxville; and Robert Louis Hutton of Glankler Brown in Memphis.

For more information, please visit childrensrights.org/Tennessee. To learn more about the DCF’s specific reforms between 2000 and 2017, read the Brian A. v. Halsam Fact Sheet.

 

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