Tennessee Foster Care Report: Significant Improvements in Key Areas, But Serious Problems Remain

Six years after the settlement of a landmark federal lawsuit charging Tennessee’s child welfare agency with violating the constitutional rights of the children in its care, the state has made significant progress toward implementing major reforms, according to a comprehensive monitoring report released today–but still must address serious problems to meet the requirements of the court-enforceable settlement agreement by June 2008, the target date for full compliance.

The report, issued by the Technical Assistance Committee established under the terms the settlement agreement, examines progress made by Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) toward the specific improvements agreed to in the 2001 settlement of Brian A. v. Bredesen, filed in 2000 by Children’s Rights and a team of Tennessee law firms and attorneys in Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville.

Although DCS has made significant improvements in placing children with foster families–rather than orphanage-style institutions–and keeping siblings together in foster care, it is still moving children too frequently between foster care placements, failing to provide important services for older children, and making inadequate progress toward placing children in permanent homes, according to the report.

“The Brian A. settlement has produced significant improvements for Tennessee children, and DCS has a strong leadership team in place,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “But the remaining problems are very serious, and we will remain in place as a watchdog to hold the agency accountable and ensure that DCS makes the sustained commitment that will be necessary to solve them.”

The monitoring report credits DCS with improvements in several areas, including:

However, the report also notes continued problems that jeopardize the well-being of children in foster care, including:

“DCS has some serious work ahead in making sure these vulnerable children get the care and protection they deserve, but it feels good to see some real progress being made,” said David L. Raybin, an attorney with Hollins, Wagster, Weatherly & Raybin, P.C. in Nashville and one of the lawyers on the plaintiff team with Children’s Rights. “This is why I became a lawyer in the first place–to provide a voice for those who can’t speak up for themselves–and we’ll be there for them throughout this whole process, enforcing this court order until all the reforms are in place.”

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