NASHVILLE (AP) – The officials now heading up the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services say they’re seeking swift, but deliberate solutions to problems that have plagued the agency.
Interim Commissioner Jim Henry told The Tennessean he still can’t give a definitive answer about how many children who have come into contact with DCS have died.
Henry and Larry Martin, a longtime aide to Gov. Bill Haslam, met with the newspaper’s reporters to talk about the agency. Henry said a $27 million computer system used by DCS to track children appears to be improving as glitches are found and fixed.
More than 200 Tennessee children lost their lives or nearly died since 2009 after having some contact with the agency. The exact number isn’t clear.
“I know that I know how many have died since I’ve been here, since I’ve put my attention to it,” Henry said. “One.”
The death was that of an infant, who died at a hospital shortly after DCS intervened, Henry said.
Haslam sent Martin to help sort out problems at the agency on Jan. 24, but said then-Commissioner Kate O’Day would remain in charge. On Feb. 5, O’Day resigned.
The department had previously been faulted by child advocacy groups for being too insular.
“We’re going to shine a light,” Martin said. “We’re going to deal with whatever those problems are. That will go a long way to improving the credibility of the department and our relationship with providers, our relationship with juvenile justice, our relationship with child advocacy groups out there.”
Henry and Martin said getting a grip on the department has included what they called a “steep learning curve,” but said they had spent recent days speaking to as many experts as possible, including juvenile court judges, nonprofit groups, DCS staff and others.
A mission statement on the department’s website said DCS has about 8,000 children under its custody and its job is to find the permanency children need to become happy and productive adults.
Information from: The Tennessean, www.tennessean.com
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