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(Memphis) A pair of bills introduced by Rep. John Deberry of Memphis focus on more transparency for the Department of Children’s Services, as well as additional recourse for families who have had children die in the agency’s care.

Deberry filed House Bill 1505 on January 16th.  It relates to the release of records by DCS.  If passed, DCS would have to immediately release the following about a child whose death occurred due to abuse or neglect, or was the subject of an ongoing investigation:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • History of the department’s involvement with the child’s family
  • Brief summary of the known circumstances surrounding the child’s death

Once the investigation is complete, the bill calls for DCS to release a full report, including whether the allegations of abuse or neglect were substantiated.

DCS has already made significant changes over the past year to its policy on releasing child death information. The agency now posts quarterly data online. There are also PDF versions of case files for children who died in 2012.

Deberry told WREG during a December interview he’s pleased with the changes, but wanted to take it a step further.

“It’s very easy when you change leadership to change direction, we don’t want to go backwards.  So I think that we as the legislature have got to look at the rules that are going to be made by the agency, a rule is one thing, a law is another.”

DCS Commissioner Jim Henry also told WREG after speaking at a Senate Health and Finance Committee Meeting that the agency plans to release more detailed information in the future after a child dies.

Deberry also introduced House Bill 1504. It would stretch the current statute of limitations on wrongful death action to two years instead of one.

At one year, Tennessee has one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country.

DCS critics and victims’ rights advocates say victims’ families often run out of time to sue the agency after discovering possible wrong doing after a death investigation.

Whistleblower Says Fatalities Are Pattern for DCS

If passed, both would go into effect July 1, 2014.  A DCS spokesperson says the agency is working with Deberry in regards to HB 1505, and they expect to meet about it soon.