NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)- In a letter addressed to Gov. Bill Lee, 11 Democratic state legislators say it is “simply cruel” for the state to not take immediate action to reform the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
“We respectfully request that you provide interventional remediation immediately for the sake of our children,” the letter’s authors state.
From children sleeping on office floors, to case managers feeling “traumatized,” to nearly 500 vacant positions, the problems plaguing DCS are no secret. The letter states that the turnover rate for first-year case managers is 47%.
While Governor Lee has indicated he will make DCS one of his priorities in the upcoming state budget, Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Davidson, and other Tennessee Democrats note that money won’t be available until July if the department does get an increase.
“We have to do something about that immediately, so our letter is just urging the governor to do something about that right away,” said Campbell.
Campbell is proposing the governor call a special legislative session to address concerns at DCS and/or allocate some of the state’s estimated $1.5 billion in “rainy day funds.”
“It’s just unconscionable for me that we would be okay with having kids in this situation,” she said.
Several Memphis-area elected representatives signed onto the letter, including Sen. Sara Kyle, Sen. London Lamar, Rep. Karen Camper and Rep. Antonio Parkinson.
When asked about whether he would take immediate action regarding DCS, the governor’s office did not address the letter directly, but said they are working to solve these issues.
“Like nearly every state across the country, Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services has been most impacted by workforce challenges, which the department has addressed through consistent pay raises for caseworkers and will continue to prioritize in the upcoming FY23-24 budget. Public service is a calling, and in order to recruit and retain highly skilled caseworkers, DCS has made significant budget requests to ensure the department can offer competitive wages and benefits. The Lee administration is committed to solving these challenges and serving Tennessee children,” a spokesperson for Governor Lee said in a statement.
On Monday, when asked about short-term solutions for DCS, Lee mentioned the privatization of some of the services. In their budget request, the department asked for $11.4 million for “private provider case management.”
“We need a solution that works and we will look for alternatives that will provide that, whatever method that is,” the governor said.
However, while conversations continue and future plans are in the works, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree the conditions for children at DCS need to improve.