(Nashville) James Henry spent most of his life as a lawmaker and politician, but as the interim head of an agency facing intense scrutiny, he knows this role will be that of a fixer.
In his first television interview since taking over at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Henry says he has spent his first few weeks on the job just listening.
“We’ve talked to a lot of judges, we’ve talked to a lot of parents, we’ve talked to a lot of legislators and we’ve talked to a lot of people on the front lines about the problems,” says Henry.
Those problems include TFACTs, the computer system that can’t keep track of child fatalities. Henry says from now on, there will be more communication in general, when a child dies.
“I’ll be contacted as soon as it happens, we’ll know something about the case and of course the investigation will start and we’ll know as quickly. We hope to do that on a monthly basis, I think that will build some trust,” added Henry.
“I think it’s kind of what we ought to be doing, I mean it’s, the public deserves to know how many children die in our custody, they deserve to know how many non-custodial.”
DCS will now only report that 25 children who were in the state’s custody died in 2011 and 2012.
They still won’t confirm fatalities of those who had prior contact with the department.
The agency previously told WREG there were at least 26 such fatalities in Shelby County from 2008-2012.
“We think we’re pretty close to that, we want to be inclusive in that, the public deserves to know, you deserve to know,” Henry says.
Henry has also started to send out a weekly newsletter called DCS Open Line.
It’s where he announced Friday they’ve made some upgrades to the computer system to better track fatalities.
Henry says child safety is the department’s first priority, and there will be a major overhaul in the coming months.
He also told us every DCS employee will spend a day as case worker to get a better idea of what it’s like to be on the front lines.