(Memphis) Transparency and the release of records at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will once again be a topic of discussion for lawmakers in Nashville this week.
Representative John Deberry of Memphis has introduced a pair of bills aimed at both greater transparency and justice for Tennessee families.
Both are on Wednesday’s agenda for the House Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting.
A 58-page file detailing the death of 12-year-old Andrea Ruth is an example of what more openness can bring.
The Millington girl died from serious neglect, even after DCS had opened and closed a case.
The On Your Side Investigators dug through thousands of records, now available online after our lawsuit, and found her file.
The report reveals Andrea had a horrible ulcer on her hip, rotting skin from the ankle down, and toe bones that had fallen off.
There was even a maggot-infested dressing that a nurse says she didn’t notice.
That healthcare worker, Chasara Jones, along with Andrea’s parents Errol Johnson and Raven Ruth, are now charged with murder.
Representative Deberry told WREG, “I think all of us know the mess that they had at Children’s Services, and that we’ve had some children that have been abused, we’ve had some children who have died in custody and you know, thank goodness to folks like yourself who have brought some of these things to light.”
Deberry says he’s pleased with the changes DCS Commissioner Jim Henry has put in place, but wants to take that a step further.
“The main thing we wanted to do was memorialize these and codify these so that even if Commissioner Henry decides that he’s going to retire next year, that these will be in the rules, these will be in the law, in statute,” explained Deberry.
House Bill 1505 would make those rule changes law, providing transparency and the release of records no matter who’s in charge.
At minimum, DCS would have to immediately release the following if the deceased child was the subject of an ongoing investigation, or child abuse or neglect was suspected:
- The child’s age
- The child’s gender
- The history of the department’s involvement with the child’s family
- A brief summary of the known circumstances surrounding the child’s death
“It is paramount that we have these rules, that we have this access, that we have these records, that we know what’s going on with each and every child.”
While not directly aimed at DCS, Deberry introduced another bill that could impact its victims’ families.
House Bill 1504 extends the time to file a wrongful death lawsuit from one year to two.
“I think absolutely it ought to be legislated, says Memphis attorney James Sanders.
Sanders represents Anna Mosley. Her 11-month-old, Xavier, died in a Bartlett foster home in November of 2013, and they’re still waiting to get his file from DCS.
“This mother has an absolute right to know what happened to her child.”
Both bills were rolled last week due to legislators asking for additional information.
Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville complained 1505 didn’t go far enough to include the release of records regarding near deaths.
Deberry says he’s gotten support from DCS on HB 1505 and hopes for the same from his colleagues.
“This is a time we need to heal, we need to work together, we need to build bridges not walls, we need to open our eyes, not turn our backs and just see to it that we have everything we need to protect these children.”