DCS ‘Has Maintained A Steady Level’ of Progress Since Recent Exit From Lawsuit, New Report Shows

Contact: Wende Gozan Brown, 646-216-3329, wbrown@childrensrights.org

(Nashville, TN) — The first in a series of reports shows that Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is sustaining progress made during the 16-year effort to reform its child welfare system.

These reports, which an “External Accountability Center” creates, denote the final, 18-month phase that requires continued public reporting. In July 2017, Chief U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., determined that DCS had reached more than 140 mandated benchmarks and granted the state exit from court oversight in Brian A. v. Halsam—a federal class action lawsuit brought to overhaul the state’s foster care system. The External Accountability Center is the only remaining aspect of Brian A. under court jurisdiction.

The External Accountability Center’s first report covers the six-month period from January through June 30, 2017, and found that on “such key indicators as workload, adoption milestones, visits between caseworkers and foster children, and assessments,” performance was “consistent” with that which allowed the state to exit court oversight earlier this year.

The report also notes that agency officials need to “look more closely” at a number of areas, such as limiting the use of group homes for older youth and an increase in children entering the foster care system overall. The report urges a focus on regional performance differences as well, so that agency management can more precisely target where improvement is needed most.

“We are very pleased with this robust data reporting and are encouraged that overall progress is consistent in 2017,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “We know Governor Haslam and DCS Commissioner Hommrich are committed to building on improvements and to rapidly addressing any areas of concern. We look forward to progress going forward.”

The report also builds out a feature negotiated by the parties in the Brian A. settlement agreement—a comprehensive set of data regarding performance outcomes by race, with particular emphasis on regional data. One encouraging statistic indicates that the racial and ethnic composition of foster parents in Tennessee is proportionate to the racial and ethnic composition of the children in placement. Another statistic, however, shows that African-American children are entering foster care at higher rates than white children in many regions, including in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville.

Negotiated by the parties to Brian A., the External Accountability Center was established to demonstrate how well DCS is serving children in foster care, and how to strengthen the systems DCS uses to monitor its own performance. Today’s report is the first of three to be issued every six months. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a leading national policy and research center, is carrying out the majority of External Accountability Center functions. DCS and Chapin Hall are also working with the Vanderbilt Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody in Nashville, Tennessee.

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

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Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.