DCS now has chance to fix its faults
The state Department of Children’s Services is a mess. The agency was only marginally functional when Commissioner Kate O’Day took over leadership of DCS two years ago, so all of its problems can’t be laid at her feet.
But under her tenure, as the extent of the dysfunction has been uncovered, it became apparent that additional difficulties arose at DCS while she was in charge.
O’Day’s resignation Tuesday will not of itself resolve management issues. But at least it will clear the top deck and remove a distraction to resolving issues vital to the welfare of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children.
It’s been determined that 113 children under DCS auspices died in 2011 and 2012 — some of them alleged victims of abuse and neglect — but the circumstances have been kept from the public. Nine of those deaths were previously unacknowledged by the department until revealed Monday in federal court. DCS blamed its computers.
DCS is still years away from fulfilling a federal judge’s order in 2000 to meet foster care requirements. Juvenile detention centers have reported increased incidents of violence. Perhaps most telling is the complaint that children’s advocates find it difficult to communicate with top agency officials.
With a chancellor ordering DCS to partially open case records to 12 news organizations that went to court to obtain the documents, the agency lost its attempt to keep the information closed due to privacy concerns.
The DCS response to the chancellor’s order — on the same day as O’Day’s resignation — was announce it would cost the news organizations nearly $56,000 to get the redacted records. Among the charges: driving more than 7,000 miles and $516 for white-out tape.
If that was a bunker-mentality response by the troubled agency, that is unfortunate. According to accounts, morale is low among the many dedicated professionals at DCS. Reorganizing is going to be strenuous enough for overburdened DCS personnel. Resisting the public’s rightful interest in protecting these children will further drain the agency’s spirit.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to appoint Jim Henry, who headed the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to be interim commissioner of DCS will open new channels of communication.
Before being named the first commissioner of DIDD, Henry spent 13 years as president and CEO of Omni Visions Inc., a company that serves adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. The former mayor of Kingston also was a state representative and for six years served as minority leader and advocated for people with developmental difficulties.
Henry knows better than to believe DCS’s problems can be disappeared with $516 worth of white-out tape.