Citizens Panel: Children's Services Failed Timely Response


NASHVILLE (AP) – A citizens group that makes recommendations to Tennessee Department of Children's Services says the state office did not respond for more than a year to some it its suggestions.

Federal law requires response within six months.

On Tuesday, Citizen Review Panels received a response from the department, addressing two years of recommendations.

"They responded to our 2011 and 2012 recommendations in the same letter," said Toni Lawal, a co-coordinator of the group and a social worker affiliated with the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

Tennessee received more than $1 million in combined federal funding in 2011 and 2012 under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. A requirement for the funds is response by the state to citizen review within six months after recommendations are made. The state received $520,018 for 2012 and $517,528 for 2011.

The Tennessean reported Molly Sudderth, a spokesman for DCS, on Sunday sent reporters a copy of a letter DCS Commissioner Kate O'Day sent to Citizen Review Panels on Dec. 31. Sudderth did not respond to questions about the reason for the delay or whether department officials understood the reporting requirement under the act.

The letter is similar to one in the files of the federal Administration for Children and Families. It was dated Sept. 20, 2012, and appears to be the department's official response to the requirement.

The Citizen Review Panel system includes four regional groups across the state. Members include pediatricians, police officers, social workers, teachers and others whose work brings them into contact with children.

The panel recommended in 2011 that DCS provide more training to school officials about how to recognize signals of abuse and neglect.

The only 2012 recommendation was that DCS respond to the 2011 request.

The department has been criticized for a lack of accountability to those outside the agency.

DCS's chief legal counsel, Doug Dimond, conceded in September that the department had not followed a state law requiring it to inform lawmakers of the deaths of children with whom DCS had contact.

A coalition of newsgathering organizations joined The Tennessean, which filed suit against DCS asking that records on child deaths be opened to public scrutiny. A Nashville judge heard arguments last week and will rule later.

Information from: The Tennessean,

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