DCS commissioner O'Day resigns amid scrutiny of deaths

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) -- The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services has resigned amid scrutiny of how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.

“Kate has informed me that she felt the time was right to step down,” Haslam said. "Gov. Bill Haslam announced in a news release Tuesday that Kate O'Day had decided to resign because of concerns that she had become the focus of attention rather than the children the agency is meant to serve."

I appreciate Kate’s service to this administration and to our state. She has done a lot of good work in identifying longstanding problems that have hampered the department, and we will build on those efforts as we move forward.”

The Republican governor last week defended O'Day's leadership, even after the agency told a federal judge it couldn't say with any certainty how many children died while in its custody.

DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 151 children who died between January 2009 and July 2012 and had been the subject of state investigations of abuse or neglect.

Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled last month that DCS, which had claimed it was keeping the records closed to protect the children's privacy, had to release hundreds of pages from four cases to the news organizations after identifying information was redacted. A decision on whether more records were to be released is pending.

DCS has been under federal court oversight for more than a decade over problems in Tennessee's foster care system.

Less than two weeks ago DCS told a federal judge that it couldn't accurately count how many children have died in its custody, saying its tracking system had missed nine deaths in 2011 and 2012. The revelation and increasing calls for DCS to improve its performance have threatened to derail more than 10 years of work to resolve a long-running lawsuit over the agency's handling of foster care.

Thus far, officials have not been able to explain how DCS overlooked the nine deaths except to say that it was the result of human error.

O'Day took over DCS in January 2011 after serving as president and CEO of Child & Family Tennessee on Knoxville.

Haslam said he tapped Commissioner Jim Henry as interim Director of DCS. Henry currently leads the Dept. of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities department. He became the first head of that department after it was separated from the Department of Finance and Administration.

Prior to that, his biography states Henry, a Vietnam veteran, served as President and CEO of Omni Visions, Inc., which it described as a company that served adults with developmental disabilities as well as children and families in crisis. He also served as the mayor of Kingston and spent 12 years as state representative, during which he was minority leader for six years.

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