TN Brian A. v. Haslam


On April 11, 2016 a federal judge ruled that Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) had reached all of the mandated milestones to overhaul its foster care system. The state then entered a yearlong hold period, during which it sustained its performance on every measure—the final step before requesting an end to court oversight. After the hold period, an external accountability center issued three reports continuing to analyze DCS’s progress. In February 2019, the court terminated, its jurisdiction over DCS.

In 2017 Jim Henry, former DCS Commissioner, reflected, on the lawsuit’s success: “We’ve got to be honest: we didn’t have a system here in 2000. I mean, we deserved to get a lawsuit. The fact is, we’re a much better system now. We’re better off for it, the kids are better off and I think the taxpayers are better off.”

In 2000, Children’s Rights, along with a team of local counsel in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis, brought this legal reform campaign against Tennessee’s then-Governor Donald Sundquist and then-Commissioner George Hattaway of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in their official capacities. The Modified Settlement Agreement and Exit Plan, recognizes the state’s progress and sets out the specific requirements needed in order for Tennessee to successfully complete the court-ordered improvements and end court involvement. Children’s Rights has remained very active and has continued to advocate for reform in concert with the TAC. Despite setbacks under the DCS leadership in place in 2011 and 2012 – which has since been replaced by a team led by DCS Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich – this reform effort has succeeded in helping to bring substantial changes for children in Tennessee:

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