Brand new interim Department of Children's Services (DCS) Commissioner Jim Henry told a Tennessee Senate committee Wednesday that he would “attack” the problems at the troubled agency where there have been reports of kids dying under state care.
Henry, who now has a dual role along with being commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, gave a brief opening statement to the Senate Health and Welfare committee where he said he “was humbled by the opportunity to make things better for kids around the state.”
Commissioner Henry said fixing things at DCS, which have ranged from child deaths at state-supervised foster homes, to a faulty, expensive computer system to keep track of children, “is not a Republican or Democrat issue.”
Henry spent slightly more than an hour before the committee with questions from senators after his opening statement.
Most of the questions turned into statements appreciating that he had accepted “such a thankless job.”
Commissioner Henry responded to a question from Sen. Randy McNally about the $27 million computer tracking system that has had a series of issues, saying he's been told the department “is making big improvements on it.”
Before adjourning, Commissioner Henry agreed that DCS should be back before the committee in the near future with updates and reports about what is going on at the department.
Committee Vice-Chair Bo Watson said everyone including lawmakers “will have to face brutal facts” about “a lot of uncomfortable things they may find.”
Henry, who served as a Republican House leader in the 1980s and ran unsuccessfully for the party's nomination as governor in 2002, later met with reporters saying he met Wednesday morning with DCS staff.
He added his immediate focus would be on things such as the healthcare of the 10,000 kids in state care and their protection.
When asked about the most serious problems in DCS, Henry said “I don't know, [I] haven't been there long enough.”
Later during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Henry said he's focused on safety first for the kids in DCS, their health care, and putting them on the right course.
“Three things I will concentrate on more than anything,” he added.
Henry, who has run a company dealing with the intellectual disabled said he would not hesitate to asked for more state funds if he felt the safety of DCS was being compromised.
“What I do in the next few years is going to have a big impact on the way I feel about myself and I am certainly not going to compromise myself or the kids in this state because of financial considerations,” said Commissioner Henry at the conclusion of his news conference.
Henry was named Tuesday by Governor Bill Haslam to lead DCS after embattled commissioner Kate O'Day submitted her resignation
- Feb. 5, 2013: DCS commissioner resigns amid scrutiny of deaths
- Feb. 3, 2013: DCS commissioner to meet with legislative panel
- Jan. 24, 2013: Tenn. shows more cases of child deaths in DCS care
- Jan. 23, 2013: DCS ordered to release child death records
- Nov. 7, 2012: DCS Commissioner promises improvements inside department
- Oct. 4, 2012: Officials meet to discuss deaths of 31 children in DCS care
- Oct. 3, 2012: Governor: No indication agency mishandled cases
- Sept. 22, 2012:Haslam reviewing data on child deaths
- Sept. 21, 2012: DCS: 31 children it investigated died this year
- Sept. 12, 2012: Lawmaker demands answers from DCS commissioner