Former Department of Children Services case workers said Interim DCS Commissioner Jim Henry's first priority should be getting to know what DCS employees in the field are encountering.
Leslie Iorio worked for DCS as an investigator in Child Protect Services and then as an assessor with the Multiple Response System (MRS) from 2006 to 2009.
According to DCS, MRS is a set of tools that can help parents keep their children safe.
Under the program not all cases reported to DCS would be investigated by law enforcement.
Severe cases of abuse in neglect would still be investigated by law enforcement.
Iorio said in 2007 within DCS a shift in mission put the focus on family preservation instead of child safety. Meaning, children were supposed to be kept in their homes or placed with next of kin when possible, instead of in a foster home.
“We used to be asked after we came back from talking with a child ‘is the child safe' and then we would proceed from there,” Iorio said. “After MRS that wasn't the question that was primary, the question was is there a family where we can place this child.”
Iorio and two other former DCS workers said the department also pressured workers to close opened cases quickly. In some cases, the workers said supervisors made them place children in homes that the caseworker did not feel was safe.
“They would tell us to get in and get out,” one of the former employees who did not want to be identified told Nashville's News 2.
The former caseworkers also said the department overloaded them with dozens of cases to handle.
Iorio and two independent sources confirmed for Nashville's News 2 that within DCS there was a practice of “tree sharing.”
A caseworker's cases are held on what the agency calls “Family Trees” according to the former employees.
They said the agency would shift cases onto the “Family Trees” of case worker positions that were vacant or onto employees who were not supposed to have cases.
The shifting gave the impression that the caseload per case worker was smaller.
“The people on the front lines are educated, but they are not allowed to use their education or their heart,” Iorio said. “They are just foot soldiers to often and they are supposed to tow the line.”
All three former caseworkers said within DCS there is a culture of fear among field offices of the Central Office.
A fear the former caseworkers said pre-dates former Commissioner Kate O'Day and causes many DCS workers not to complain about the working conditions.
The former employees said the children end up paying the price.
“The central office's priority is the numbers they don't seem to try to match the safety permanence and will being of the child, “Iorio said, adding, “Sometimes this means 10 times, 20 times or even 30 times [contacting the same family] there is no way you can say that is a good thing.”
Interim Commissioner Jim Henry told a Senate Committee he was committed to tackling the agency's ongoing problems.
- Feb. 6, 2013: Interim commissioner vows to attack problems at troubled DCS
- 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