A state lawmaker is calling for an investigation into Tennessee Department of Children's Services practices and for the commissioner to step down after DCS released statistics acknowledging 31 children died this year either while in DCS custody, while a case was being investigated or after a case was closed.
Representative Sherry Jones told Nashville's News 2 she asked DCS for the numbers in July, after a number of people came to her office with concerns related to children's services.
“The numbers that I got were just amazing,” said Jones, adding, “We're looking at more than one child per month dying.”
According to DCS, four deaths were children in actual DCS custody, at a foster home or a residential treatment center. Ten deaths happened while a DCS case was still open and 17 deaths occurred after a case had already been closed.
Brandon Gee, public information manager for DCS, told Nashville's News 2, “We know, whether it's preventable or not, having a child die, especially when that child is intersected with us, public tolerance for that is very low, as it should be and the goal is to make that zero.”
Jones said, “What I'd like to see happen right now is to see the administration do an outside, independent investigation. At the very least do an investigation, and at the very best, find a new commissioner of children's services.”
Gee said Friday morning, DCS officials, including Commissioner Kathryn O'Day, attended a meeting to learn more about high reliability organizing in an effort to continue improving their department.
“That's a term for practices that are put in place in industries that are prone to catastrophe, like a nuclear power plant or airline industry,” explained Gee. “More recently it's been used in healthcare so we're examining these industries that have really high risks, but very few accidents and we're determining what we can learn from them.”
Gee added, “While we're not going to stop every death from happening, we're going to try and make sure the same mistakes don't happen twice in those cases where we maybe could've done something differently.”
Jones said she plans to continue asking questions of DCS in an effort to find out why these deaths are happening and what can be done to stop it.
“There's just no reason for these things to be happening. There's no reason for this number of children to die,” she said.
Last year, 100 children investigated by DCS died. Of those, 11 were in DCS custody, 21 while a case file was open and 68 after a case had been closed.
- Sept. 12, 2012: Lawmaker demands answers from DCS commissioner