‘It’s near collapse’ | Knox Co. judge describes current situation with Department of Children Services

In the 2021 annual report, DCS was short about 400 of the case workers the state budgeted for.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 7:16 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County Juvenile judge Tim Irwin brought some of his major concerns about the current status of the Department of Children’s Services in Tennessee which includes how the department is near collapsing. He said the department was so short staffed, they can’t provide all of the services necessary for the children. Irwin said there were measures going on that aren’t legal.

“When I commit a child to the Department of Children Services, and they remain in my detention for weeks sometimes into months, without a place to go, that’s wrong. It’s illegal but it’s happening. It’s happening in Knox County,” Irwin said. “We don’t have enough DCS employees. If you haven’t heard that, I’m telling you it’s near collapse.”

A solution he offered state leaders was to put more funding into it.

“Throw money at it. I’m telling you right now, throw money at it. Tons of money at it. We have got to make these positions attractive to people,” Irwin said.

In the 2021 annual report DCS put out, DCS budgets for 2,803 case managers. The department only filled 2,389 positions, a 414 person shortage. The average monthly salary of DCS case manager staff was $3,903.

There were resources statewide to help children in the foster system which includes the Isaiah 117 House. The non-profit provides housing options for foster children. Kristi Whitehead with Isaiah 117 said the organization was created to keep children from sleeping on DCS office floors. This is still happening, according to Irwin.

Whitehead said even when they provide housing, it still puts work in case worker’s hands.

“Even though they bring them to our houses, they’re still in charge so they’re there all times that kids are there,” Whitehead said.

State lawmakers were still figuring out what can be done to help these children. Both Democrats and Republicans feel more money to the department is essential. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D- Knoxville, wants to pass her legislation which would limit the number of children a case worker sees to 12 or 13 children. Johnson said case workers in Knox County deal with 40-60 children.

“People are leaving in droves and they’re leaving in droves because their caseloads are way too high,” Johnson said.

Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, discussed Irwin’s concerns in Nashville. He agreed more money needs to go to DCS. He feels this won’t solve the entire problem though.

“We can’t find, and the department can’t find, staff. Just as you said restaurants, you name it people just don’t want to work,” Farmer said.

WVLT News reached out to DCS for comment and is waiting for a response.