NASHVILLE — The Department of Children’s Services is reorganizing following problems that led to the recent resignation of Commissioner Kate O’Day.
One of the biggest changes includes teaming with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to better train child abuse investigators.
“The first responsibility of DCS, whatever happens, should be to make sure the child is safe,” Interim Commissioner Jim Henry said Monday at a news conference.
Henry said district attorneys sometimes are unwilling to prosecute a case because of problems with the investigation.
Investigations were formerly a part of Child Protective Services, a program that was under the same division as foster care and adoption. Those investigations will now be under a new division called Child Safety, which will have its own deputy commissioner in Scott Modell.
Modell said investigators will be trained to collect information in the most “prosecutable and convictable way.”
The training also will include teaching investigators to better recognize drugs in the household and giving them courtroom experience.
Henry avoided placing blame on O’Day’s administration for some publicized problems. Those included the department’s inability to say with any certainty how many of the children who were either in its custody or had been recently investigated following abuse allegations had died in the previous three years.
DCS also is moving forward with a new process for reviewing child deaths.
Henry said the nonprofit Children’s Rights, which is involved in a longstanding lawsuit with the department over its treatment of foster care children, praised the new process in a recent meeting, saying that it could become the “gold standard” for the nation.
Tom Cheetham, who will fill the newly created position of deputy commissioner for child health, said the review is of vital importance in figuring out what went wrong and preventing future deaths.
Cheetham said new protocol when a child dies includes a rapid response to determine whether other children are in danger and a report on Commissioner’s Henry’s desk within an hour. There also will be an investigation and review, which will include a physician from outside the agency for the first time.
Children’s Rights recently went to court in order to gain access to the department’s records for children who died or nearly died after the agency tried to help them. A group of media organizations that includes The Associated Press also is suing for access to the records.
State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, a frequent critic of the department, attended the Monday briefing. She said she was pleased with the changes and thought the agency was trying to treat children better.
“They’ve done a pitiful job in the past,” Jones said.
—TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press