Crisis at Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services

November 7, 2022 K.O. Herston 1 Comments

There’s been a lot of recent reporting about Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) not providing basic services for desperate children in need. This is caused by various issues, not the least of which is Tennessee’s chronic underfunding of DCS.

Here are two recent reports that should be of interest to my readers.

Judge Warns Staffing Shortage at DCS Is Putting the Department ‘Near Collapse’

The staffing shortage at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has gotten so critical a judge has warned lawmakers some of what’s happening to kids in the department’s care is “illegal.”

Judge Tim Irwin is on the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and addressed state lawmakers the day before the new DCS commissioner began her new role. At the Committee on Juvenile Justice, he urged state representatives to “throw money” to build up DCS.

“It shouldn’t be a consideration for me to make when I’m trying to decide what to do with a young person whether there is going to be a bed for them or not somewhere,” he said. “We do not have enough DCS employees. If you haven’t heard of that I am telling you it’s near collapse.”

Irwin said a couple of weeks ago, he took a severely mentally ill child to the hospital himself when a bed opened up after his office had closed for the day.

“I put him in my own truck, got a guard from detention, and put him in myself. And knew that bed won’t be there in the morning,” he said.

Irwin told lawmakers in Knox County there are divisions of DCS operating with half their positions open and said there are other counties in the state operating with even fewer employees.

“If we give them the goods and services when they are little, then we don’t need to protect society from them when they get older,” he said.

During the hearing, some lawmakers said one of the issues is that some people don’t want to work.

“They are looking for a handout, they want to sit at home, they want to collect a check from the government, but it takes a special type of person to work with these people,” said Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville).

DCS employees have been given a raise recently, and also Rep. Mary Littleton (R-Dickson) said the department has held job fairs and advertised that they have openings.

“We worked on getting them a bonus this year, but we don’t know how we are going to get them,” she said.

Democratic Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said the problem isn’t simply the salary for caseworkers at DCS. She said the job itself is the issue.

“No one wants a job that is impossible to do well. Lower caseloads and workers and families will be successful,” she tweeted.

A 2018 state law requires DCS caseworkers to have on average 20 cases they are responsible for or less, but according to a 2020 audit the department interpreted the law to be the average of cases each region had on a specific day.

“While the department’s regional averages were 20 active cases or below, we found that the department’s caseload data showed that between 18.5% and 28.8% of the department’s case managers carried more than 20 cases based on the day chosen by the department,” the audit reported. “We also identified for the staff that carried more than 20 cases, that there were case managers (six in one month and 35 in another month) that carried 40 or more cases on at least one day for the year.”

Johnson believes that if workers are given fewer cases, the department would be able to hire more staff and alleviate some of the issues Irwin mentioned.

“When I commit a child to DCS, and they remain in my detention for weeks, sometimes even months without a place to go, it’s wrong, and it’s illegal,” Irwin said.

Source: Judge Warns Staffing Shortage at DCS Is Putting the Department ‘Near Collapse’ (, September 7, 2022)

New DCS Head Says Some Children Are Sleeping on Office Floors, Staff and Kids Are ‘Traumatized’

Thirty-five days into her new role as the head of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Margie Quin says children in state care are sleeping on office floors, and her staff is “traumatized.”

“One hundred percent of our beds in our staff secure or hardware secure facilities are full,” Quin told a group of state lawmakers Wednesday. “Because of the limitation of beds, there are about 11 to 15 juvenile justice youth in local DCS offices waiting for appropriate placements.”

She said the children sleeping in offices are “real high-needs children” and sometimes youth who have committed a felony, which leads to staff and kids feeling unsettled.

“And the individuals in the DCS office, are they trained to care for these youth?” asked Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “No, sir,” Quin replied.

Quin promised lawmakers she is digging for answers and solutions to the problems plaguing DCS, but mental health professionals worry a lot of the damage has already been done.

“I’m watching these kids suffer. I’m watching them have behavioral meltdowns, and they are not able to go to school and function, it is impacting every facet of their lives,” said Leigh Anne Goldstine, a therapist who often works with children in DCS custody and foster families. “We are in a mess.”

Goldstine said when children are taken out of their homes and moved into DCS care, they are often promised a better life than what they came from, and when they are still forced to stay in “survival mode,” their development and ability to trust and form relationships is impacted.

“They are being pulled from a home where they likely did not have a bed, right? They are sleeping on the couch or sleeping on the floor, and people are making promises to them that things will be better, and they are still sleeping on the floor,” she said. “Traumatic experience on top of trauma they have already suffered.”

Goldstine says she has sympathy for the DCS workers with large caseloads.

“The job is just an untenable job. There is no way they can do it,” she said.

Goldstine suggests hiring more well-trained staff to reduce workloads and help give children consistent figures in their lives. She also says more people at DCS need to be trained in how kids form bonds and relationships.

Source: New DCS Head Says Some Children Are Sleeping on Office Floors, Staff and Kids Are ‘Traumatized’ (NewsChannel 3, October 7, 2022).

If you found this helpful, please share it using the buttons below.

Crisis at Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services was last modified: November 6th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

1 people reacted on this

  1. Thank you for sending this timely article about the Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services. In light
    of Tennessee’s forced pregnancy law, it is timely information. I have sent it to Governor Lee and requested his comments.

Leave a Comment