DCS Changes Child Death Review Process

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(Memphis) The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is making major changes to the way it investigates, responds and reviews child fatalities.

The changes were outlined in paperwork file in federal court Thursday in the Brian A. case.

DCS will now investigate the following fatalities:

  • any child in state custody who dies or experiences near death for any reason;
  • any child who has had contact with DCS within the three years preceding their death
    or near death and their death or near death is being investigated for an allegation of
    abuse or neglect;
  • any child whose death or near death has been indicated (substantiated) for abuse or
    neglect; and
  • any child death or near death at the direction of the Commissioner, on the advice
    of the Medical Director or Deputy Commissioner Office of Child Safety.

The court filing also notes DCS will use a Rapid Response Team and a safety systems approach, similar to those in airline or health care disasters, to respond to fatalities.

When a child dies and someone notifies DCS, that call will now go through what’s called the Child Abuse Hotline.

It was formerly named Central Intake.

The CAH worker then follows a specific protocol to notify others of the fatality and has a certain time frame to input data.

For example, that worker has one hour, after finishing the intake process, to call the designated regional staff.

He or she will then email members of the Notification Team.

A manager from Regional Child Protective Services will then assign a case manager and/or family service worker to the case, who was not previously involved in the case.

There are additional requirements for children who die in state custody or at a Youth Development Center.

If there is a death or near death of a custodial child, the case worker contacts the Regional Administrator.

That administrator has an hour to call the DCS Commissioner.

If the fatality or near fatality happens at a YDC, Juvenile Justice is also immediately notified.

There are also changes to DCS’ Child Death Review Team.

Instead of one team at the state level, there will be four statewide, broken down by region.

Group 1 includes Shelby County, Northwest and Southwest Tennessee.

Reviews must be conducted within 90 days of the death or near death.

The newly created Office of Child Health must also create an annual report that includes a breakdown of the fatalities and near fatalities.

It has to be presented to the Commissioner by the first quarter of the next year.

Last fall, WREG asked DCS to provide a list of children from Shelby County who died from 2008-2012 and had prior contact with the agency.

When it provided a list of 26 children, but refused details, we joined a media coalition and sued DCS to get the records.

A judge ordered DCS turn over the records.

At a recent hearing, the judge worked to help clarify costs, as well as provided a time frame for DCS to turn over records related to the most recent, 50 fatalities named in the suit.

The suit covers deaths and near deaths from 2009-2012 statewide.

The next hearing in that case is set for May 10th.