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New Report Shows Tennessee Sustaining Major Reforms in Child Welfare System, Identifies Opportunity for Greater Investment to Reduce Racial Disparities

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, dkessel@childrensrights.org

(Nashville, TN ) – A new report by Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago found that Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) continues to sustain progress made during the 17-year effort to reform its child welfare system, and identifies opportunities to address racial disparities in outcomes for children of color. The report is available here.

This is the third and final report created by an External Accountability Center as part of the 18-month public reporting phase of the Brian A. v. Haslam settlement agreement. The report, which covers the six-month period from January 1 through June 30, 2018, found that DCS has sustained major improvements to its system despite increases in the foster care population, noting that “with a few exceptions, performance in this reporting period is similar to” the two previous reports.

Highlights of continued improvements include:

  • Families, not facilities for children under six: The use of group facilities (also known as congregate care) for children under six years old remains minimal, with no new children under six placed in group facilities during the review period.
  • Caseworker monitoring: Nearly 90% of children received at least two monthly visits from their caseworkers for the 12-month period ending June 2018.
  • DCS caseworker caseloads: Along with improvements in the quality of care children receive, more than 90% of Foster Care Family Service Workers in the state have caseloads within the applicable threshold; monthly data however, shows a drop in caseload compliance in the second calendar quarter of 2018.
  • Health Care and Service Assessments: Nearly 90% of children entering foster care in each of the past three years (including the 12 months ending June 2018) received required initial health care assessments in their first 30 days in foster care and over 95% of children in each of those three years received required risk and service need assessments in their first 30 days in foster care.

In a separate section of the report, Chapin Hall analyzed data on children entering and exiting the system to identify and address racial disparities in the state foster care system. Progress on race disparity issues under the Brian A. reforms included engaging targeted recruitment efforts to increase African American foster homes, offering subsidized guardianship instead of terminating parental rights, maintaining a diverse workforce with cultural competency training, and a focus on analyzing performance data by race.

One concerning outcome in the report shows that for children who spent two years or more in care, white children were more than three times more likely to get adopted from foster care than black children. This statistic is consistent with national data trends on disparities for children adopted from foster care: 16.1% of black children in foster care for 2 years or longer were adopted compared 22.4% of white children.

A promising finding from the report indicates that black children in Tennessee foster care were more likely to be reunited with their families compared to white children: 10.9% of black children in care for two years or less were reunified compared to only 6.4% of white children. Nationally, there has been virtually no difference in reunification for black children as compared to white children in foster care for two years or less.

“Overall, amidst continued challenges that will affect the agency every year, Tennessee’s sustained success in reforming its foster care system is a major accomplishment. We requested this additional data analysis on racial disparities to spark further discussion and action to address inequalities in outcomes for kids of color,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights. “These findings call for a regional focus on solutions and a much deeper investment in the front end of the system. Tennessee’s child welfare leadership has recognized this urgent need, but going forward the state must invest more in community-based supports for families so that children, especially children of color, are not needlessly taken from their homes in the first place. At its heart, child welfare reform must be about supporting families.”

Children’s Rights and Tennessee co-counsel filed Brian A. v. Haslam in May 2000 on behalf of all foster children in state custody. In July 2017, Chief U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., determined that DCS had sustained performance on more than 140 mandated benchmarks for reform—including a number of measures geared specifically toward addressing racial imbalances in the system. In this landmark ruling, the state was granted exit from these court-ordered improvements, setting the stage for a final-end oversight in Brian A. v. Haslam in early 2019.

For more information, please visit childrensrights.org/Tennessee. To learn more about the DCF’s specific reforms between 2000 and 2017, see the Brian A. v. Halsam Fact Sheet.

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About Children’s Rights
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.