Oct 7 2012
08:47 am
By: R. Neal  shortURL

First off, I don't know much about DCS and other child and family services in Tennessee. But recent stories about deaths of children under DCS supervision are disturbing.

Based on various reports and news stories, though, it doesn't appear this is suddenly a new problem. But the economy has made it worse, and cuts to DCS and other state program funding by Gov. Haslam and the state legislature don't appear to be helping.

Haslam defends DCS and their policies. Instead, he should be ashamed. According to one report, DCS caseworkers in Tennessee, who handle higher than normal caseloads, are paid poverty wages that qualify them for welfare and food stamps. Haslam shut down an MTSU caseworker training program to save money. Haslam and his DCS Commissioner also closed the Taft Youth Development Center, a facility for the "worst of the worst" youth offenders that had a pretty good record in terms of recidivism and high school diplomas.

Haslam also defends his DCS Commissioner, who, on paper, looks pretty good. But then you see she is a product of Leadership Knoxville and "created a business-like management team and organizational model to ensure fiscal and programmatic accountability" at the child and family services "non-profit" she ran before taking the DCS post. Those sound like red flags to me.

There also appears to be a problem with state policy, which gives preference to keeping children in their parents' homes, sometimes in dangerous or abusive situations.

Haslam wants to run the state like a business. He appears to be running it at a loss, in the worst sense of the term, with tragic results.

Anyway, following are some articles with background for discussion.

31 Tennessee kids died in first 6 months of this year, DCS reports
Area cuts no surprise to DCS officials
Haslam says DCS acted appropriately in child death cases
Governor: No evidence of wrongdoing in deaths of children
Tennessee Department of Children's Services criticized for data delay
Concerns Arise Of Department Of Children Services Practices
Bredesen: DCS Faces $73M Federal Cut
Haslam budget cuts local DCS facilities
New Commissioner: Don't Dismantle DCS Just Yet
Local DCS Office May Close Due To Tight Budget
Budgeting Decisions: Filmkakers vs. Child Abuse?
Center for Child Welfare to Close, Family Service Agencies Cut
Officials make case to save Taft Youth Development Center
Tennessee House OKs Taft Youth Center closure
MTSU Tennessee Center for Child Welfare
DCS Commissioner Kathryn "Kate" O'Day
Child Welfare League of America Tennessee fact sheet
Kids Count Tennessee profile

Average Guy's picture

"it's for the kids"

One of the problems with electing rich politicians, is while they all say it, they have no idea what it means.

Cutting taxes and programs that lower taxes for "future generations" helps their kids, not the ones that actually need it.

A guy like Anthony Hancock should be the model for political service. His record truly does reflect a "it's for the kids" record.

Unfortunately, because our President also engaged in civil service, one American Party now sees this type record as a detriment, not a qualifier.

One child dying is one child too many. I'm not sure how one pretends to care, when all their actions lead to cuts in the safety net that's supposed to prevent children from harm or death.

Stick's picture

Red flags indeed...

Red flags indeed...

Treehouse's picture

Old girls network

Crissy Haslam served on the Board of Directors at Child and Family when Kate O'Day was made Executive Director. So Kate just followed the Haslams to Nashville. How convenient.

KC's picture

It would be nice to have

It would be nice to have commissioners of these departments like DCS or DHS to have some field experience rather than classroom experience and connections.

Now both agencies are run by those with the degrees and connections, but little or none of the real world experience that matters. Lackies.

Like having generals who have never been the lowest rank on the battlefield or superintendents who have never been in a classroom to any extent.

Disasters waiting to happen. The heads of these agencies are unsupportive of the workers who actually make the systems work so that they serve those who are supposed to be served, but they are very supportive of those who help them feather their own nests and build their own fiefdoms.

fischbobber's picture


Yeah, but he had meetings with Patton, who by all accounts, was a pretty straight shooter.

R. Neal's picture

According Ms. O'Day's brief

According Ms. O'Day's brief bio (link above) she has field experience as well as program development/management and agency executive experience. She also has an MSW, although she sounds more like an MBA now.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Jeez, Toby.

Yes, "whathisface" was mistaken to indicate that O'Day has "little or no field experience," since, as Randy points out, she does.

However, as Randy also points out, her "MBA-speak" regarding her work in this social services field is perplexing. I can see, then, why if "whathisface" read her bio too quickly he might have imagined she lacked "field experience."

And personally, I agree with KC (and most people, I'd expect?) that it's important for most executives to posses some level of "field experience" in their professions.

I'll go away, now, unless/until my interpretive services are needed again anytime soon. :-)

KC's picture

AKA Whatshisface

To me, field experience in DCS and DHS would be having spent some time (more than a year) as a case worker.

As far as Eisenhower goes, you're partly right.

He also let Nimitz lead and Patton lead their respective areas of expertise.

And he damn well made sure they had the support they needed.

That's not the way a lot of "executive" offices work these days.

You'll rarely, if ever, hear a KCS teacher say they feel supported by Central Office, and the same holds true with DCS and DHS.

Most of the time, strike that, ALL of the time, the executive offices are telling the workers what THEY need to do, instead of asking the workers what those in executive positions can do to help them.

KC's picture

AKA Whatshisface

"Most of the time, strike that, ALL of the time, the executive offices are telling the workers what THEY need to do, instead of asking the workers what those in executive positions can do to help them."

And that's what makes the difference between winning wars and losing them.

fischbobber's picture

Executive disconnect

This report would be in line with the stories I hear coming out of Nashville. Apparently there has been an extra layer of "handlers" added to state government, presumably to shield the governor from any real blame or responsibility for the actions of the state. The governors office will plead ignorance to this plight, someone will get canned and the situation will remain the same under the new person in the old position.

It's a management style that got him to the governors office and some think it will take him to Washington.

"The president said ,"Fat man, ain't it a shame? What the river have done to this poor cracker's land." " - Randy Newman

KC's picture

"It's a management style that

"It's a management style that got him to the governors office and some think it will take him to Washington."

Perhaps as a cabinet secretary or senator. If he's lucky and plays his cards right.

bizgrrl's picture

More background

From the DCS Commissioner's bio:

She began her career as a youth counselor with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Before becoming President and CEO of Child & Family Tennessee, she was Vice President of Program Development and Evaluation for Children’s Home Society of Florida and Director of Program Services for Covenant House of Florida.

I believe Florida has one of the worst rates for child deaths while under state (DCF) supervision.

According to The Miami Herald , over the past 6 years 41 percent of child abuse victims had been involved in at least one prior contact with child protective services; all other states remain at 12 percent. In 2008, the number of children who died from abuse in Florida made up almost half the U.S. total.

KC's picture

In O'Days own words from

In O'Days own words from 1998:

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Florida, and began my career in child welfare in 1980, working with a unit in one of our local police departments which dealt every day with child abuse and neglect. Over the past eighteen years, I have worked and managed programs and services in family preservation, runaway shelters, adult and adolescent substance abuse, adoptions, and foster care, among others. My career has spanned both government service and work in the not-for-profit sector. My work with Children's Home Society has included directing the programs and services here in Broward County for the past four years. Currently, my position is responsible for addressing program and service needs in our communities throughout the State of Florida and to ensure that our services are having the intended impact on the clients with whom we serve.


Tamara Shepherd's picture


In today's Tennessean, DCS chief under fire:
Lawmaker calls for ouster of O'Day, cites agency's poor performance, more complaints

One of those complaints:

...a statewide group that represents private agencies doing business with DCS expressed frustration at not being able to meet personally with O’Day. The group issued a rare public request to meet with her.

O’Day has not met with the Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families in more than a year, according to Darci Halfman, the group’s executive director. It represents 39 agencies across the state that collectively provide services to half of the children in the care of DCS and rely on a close working relationship with the department to do the work.

The previous DCS commissioner met with the alliance quarterly, Halfman said.

However, DCS contends:

DCS responded in an emailed statement that the department was working to schedule a meeting with O’Day and the alliance.

O’Day hired an executive director of network development to meet with private providers. The executive director and a DCS deputy commissioner meet with the alliance monthly, the statement said.

Fischbobber's above observation to the effect that some Haslam appointees appear to have padded their staff with "handlers" seems on point with regard to DCS--I'm just not sure whether to think this is a good or bad thing for that department to have done.

DCS does seem to have some "big picture" concerns (budget, computer system, closed facilities) which I'd guess need to be its director's first priority?

Do you suppose, then, that these "handlers" should be the folks interfacing with providers at this juncture?

Harold's picture

Cults and DCS

I do know for a fact that DCS in East TN continues to place children in a East TN fostercare agency which has a history of cult activity. This agency runs foster homes all over east TN. The cult agency lies to DCS and continues to cover up incidents of abuse and accidents which happen in the foster homes that the fostercare agency runs. Not sure any children have died while placed with this agency but I would be surprised if they have. Since the new DCS commisioner started her job DCS has began a practice of discriminating against hiring veterans or more experienced case managers. I suspect this is because they are afraid vets or people with more experience might blow the whistle on their failure to provide safety for the children in their custody.

FACTS group's picture

Families call for reform in TN DCS system

Children and families are suffering due to the unethical, unwarranted actions of some DCS Caseworkers and officials. The damage is everlasting and the ultimate sin against a child, harm under the pretense of protecting. If your family has been wrongfully accused then please visit and join us. Children deserve real protection, families deserve to have their civil liberties during any process and those who act in an official capacity should be held to a higher standard and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when they knowingly falsify documents, commit perjury and obstruct justice. I think we all agree that children deserve to be protected, that is not in question. The unethical methods by which TN DCS has been removing children from their homes is irresponsible, unacceptable. TN Children are not for sale! We demand transparency, reform, truth, honor and justice! (link...)

disgustedwitdcs's picture

Just another job?

I know these people are probably overworked, but I'm sure anyone should know this BEFORE they get into this profession. I, myself, have made several requests for a person to be investigated for doing drugs, neglect, among other very serious problems. I have been told on the phone, by the people who take your reports, that it is the parents prerogative to use illegal drugs if they choose!!! I'm sorry, if the kids are with person and she is passed out, or out of head to where she can't even get out bed, plus being on welfare, SHE HAS NO RIGHT. And when they call to let them know when they will be coming to make their visit, I see a problem with that. Alot can be done in 24 hours, and after the visit, and the conversation with the case worker, saying she found nothing of code, we were talked to as if we were interrupting her day. We've even gone to the police with very specific information about where the drugs are being gotten, who they are with, the vehicle along with plate number, when they were leaving to go to this place and where they would be filling the rx and exchanging the pills for money, and still nothing was done!!! In fact, she was approached by drug task force, rolled over on someone else, and all of a sudden other legal charges she had disappeared. What is really sad is now specific ways of how she uses a straw has been told in detail by one of the kids, so it's done in front of them. Multiple reports, these kids under 5 basically doing whatever when they are with her out left with who ever she can leave them with, and still nothing done. She has stolen from her mother, her grandmother, and Good only knows what else she has done. All I know is they are NOT taken off when with her, dad can't keep a job because she will reuse to keep them, and always coming up with some kind of medical reason to get drugs. To me, there is a BIG PROBLEM SOMEWHERE. If I knew this was going on with small kids, I would do the job free. I have a heart. If DCS won't or can't do something, then someone higher needs too get off their sorry as*es and do something. Our kids matter a whole lot more than our stupid president and his flunkies getting into the people who are doing their best and raising their kids right and trying to tell them what they can be prescribed for their problems and doing it legit than people like her who has made up so many different false things so she can sell them. Somebody's priorities are really screwed up with our sorry a** arrogant president and the ones below him.Somebody needs to get off their butt and figure out the right way to take care of pure kids and prosecute the ones who are hurting them!!!!

redmondkr's picture

Yes, Disgusted Wit

It's really all Mr. Obama's fault. He has even infiltrated your machine with an alot and wrecked your carriage return too. He has at least graced us with some nice weather here in East Tennessee lately though, don't you think?

He should be impeached. In some states occupying the oval office while black is close enough to being a high crime or a misdemeanor.

Min's picture


...there went your point and your credibility, spectacularly off the rails.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Disgusted, are any of these children of elementary school age yet? Even of kindergarten age?

If so, you may want to carry your report to their public school principal(s).

I did so once in the past and I found that the public school administrators could get traction where I could not. For one thing, the administrators were able to document problems they had with the children's tardiness, truancy, and in-school behavior. For another thing, the administrators also made a couple of home visits, unannounced, and were able to substantiate first hand some of the conditions I had reported.

In that instance, at least one other concerned parent had also made a telephone report to DCS. At one juncture, we two, along with the two public school administrators, joined in a conference call with DCS from the administrators' office.

The two elementary-aged children were removed from the mother's custody, although it took maybe a year. Neither was the mother able to regain custody, all the way up until both children turned age 18.

I'd say don't give up, look for other concerned allies within your neighborhood and especially within your public school community, and report "just the facts" without conjecture or extrapolation.

It works...eventually.

AnonymousOne's picture

Don't worry the Haslam

Don't worry the Haslam charity money will make all those dead kids, and the rebate scandal, just disappear with potential local critics. Mark my words.

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