State House to Begin Investigation of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services

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Tennessee lawmakers are set to begin an investigation of the state’s Department of Children’s Services this week, with the first of three hearings scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

“I am hoping these hearings will give us the opportunity to have some questions answered by the department,” House Speaker Beth Hartwell told The Tennessean. “We are doing everything in our legislative power to provide them with the tools and resources they need to successfully protect our children's health, safety and welfare.”

Last week, the state DCS released a 113-page response to questions submitted by Tenneessee’s House Democratic Caucus. In the report, the DCS confirmed that in 2011 and 2012, 25 children died while in state custody. Despite being asked to provide fatality data over the last decade, in the report the agency only released findings from the last five years.

Tuesday, a House Government Operations Committee will hold a special hearing on the state of the agency. More than 700 child welfare advocates are expected to convene in Nashville for the sessions.

A state Senate Health and Welfare Committee is scheduled to hear a budget proposal from the DCS on Wednesday, and a House budget hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The state DCS is expected to propose a $637 million budget for 2014, which would increase its number of caseworkers to 3,200.

Currently, Tennessee’s DCS is operating with its smallest budget, and lowest levels of case managers, in five years. While the total number of children in DCS care rose by 18 percent from 2010 to 2012, the agency’s budget was reduced by $30 million, with 200 caseworker and staffer positions eliminated during the same timeframe.