State On Track to Exit Federal Court Oversight if Improvements Maintained for 12 Months
‘Thanks to the Dedication of Key Leaders, We Have Witnessed a Massive Turnaround,’ Says Children’s Rights
(Nashville, TN) – A federal judge ruled today that Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS), once beset with dangerous systemic problems such as high caseloads and a serious shortage of appropriate foster care placements, has reached all of the mandated milestones to overhaul its foster care system. The state now enters a yearlong hold period, during which they must sustain their performance on every measure—the final step before requesting an end to court oversight.
“This is an extraordinary day for the state of Tennessee and the young people it serves,” said Sarah Russo, staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “Thanks to the dedication of key leaders, we have witnessed a massive turnaround for a child welfare agency that was once routinely harming the children it was supposed to help. We particularly commend the leadership of Commissioners Bonnie Hommrich and Jim Henry, who jump-started the final stages of this impressive reform effort.”
The state had been required to reach more than 140 benchmarks to transform foster care. Last September, the federal court found that the state had successfully whittled that number down to 13. Today, in light of the latest findings from court-appointed monitors, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell found that DCS has met these final requirements.
Since Children’s Rights and Tennessee co-counsel filed the class action known as Brian A. v. Haslam, the state has made remarkable strides to protect and help the children in its care:
•While some workers once had caseloads of 50 or more children, by 2015 at least 98 percent had caseloads of 20 or fewer kids. Ninety eight percent of children receive at least one visit from their case managers each month and most are visited at least twice per month.
•The state has eliminated the use of emergency shelters, and in 2015 was able to place some 75 percent of sibling groups together in foster care.
•This recent court ruling acknowledges strides in important safety areas, including DCS oversight and prescribing of powerful psychotropic medications, and monitoring state limits on the use of restraints and seclusion of children in foster care.
Filed in 2000 by Children’s Rights and Tennessee 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.