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Latest Report on Tennessee Foster Care Shows Major Improvement for Kids

Reports Highlight Successful Revamp of DCS Computer System, Lower Caseloads

(Nashville, TN) – In a federal court hearing today, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell approved a modified exit plan that reflects Tennessee’s significant progress toward fully meeting court-ordered improvements to its child welfare system.

Today’s hearing focused on two recent reports from independent monitors. With the latest improvements, the state has achieved 75 percent of the obligations in the ongoing reform lawsuit known as the Brian A. case.   In order to exit federal oversight, the state must meet all required improvements and sustain them for a year.

“DCS Commissioner Henry and his staff deserve considerable credit for regaining traction in this effort to improve child welfare and better support vulnerable kids and families in Tennessee,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights, the national advocacy organization that spurred the reform. “Challenges remain, but this latest report card shows progress toward fully realizing promises to improve the system, and moves the state closer to exit from this federal reform lawsuit.”

Developments acknowledged today include critical changes, such as:

Improving technology. The state has addressed problems in its long-plagued child welfare information system known as TFACTS.

Lowering caseloads. Between July 2014 and January 2015, at least 97 percent of case managers statewide had caseloads within manageable limits, and no region has fallen below 90 percent compliance since last July.

Ensuring a range of independent living services for older youth. The state has extended foster care to 21 and is supporting youth in post-secondary education and employment programs. Tennessee has steadily increased the number of young adults receiving an extension of foster care services.

Ensuring education access for children in foster care. The recent reports highlight 90 percent performance on “child-learning and development” in a recent statewide quality assurance review, strong performance in promptly enrolling children when they enter foster care and providing current Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for children with special education needs.

Commissioner Henry assumed leadership of DCS in 2013, after the Department’s progress halted under former Commissioner Kathryn O’Day.  Today’s hearing followed the filing of a report in January, with a supplement to that report filed last week, by the team of court-appointed federal monitors known as the Technical Assistance Committee or “TAC,” that is charged with reporting on the state’s progress.

Filed in 2000 by Children’s Rights and co-counsel on behalf of all foster children in state custody, the class action known as Brian A. v. Haslam charged Tennessee’s mismanaged child welfare system with violating children’s constitutional rights and causing them irreparable physical and emotional harm. Co-counsel includes  David Raybin of Hollins, Raybin & Weissman and Jacqueline Dixon of Weatherly, McNally & Dixon in Nashville; Robert Louis Hutton of Glankler Brown in Memphis; and Wade Davies of Ritchie, Fels & Dillard in Knoxville. The next monitoring report is due at the end of June 2015.