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In the 2023 State Legislature

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Information in this report is provided by the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley MD, R Hohenwald. Hensley represents Giles, Lewis, Marshall and Maury counties.

Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will be top issue

A top issue of the 2023 legislative agenda will be improving services, facilities, and record-keeping technology at the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), which is facing considerable challenges with staffing shortages and housing facility needs.

An audit by the Tennessee Comptroller found that “the safety, permanency, and well-being of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children is in jeopardy” by the department’s failure to address ongoing needs.

Three main findings of the audit were issues with staffing, child placement, and repeat historical audit findings.

DCS has requested a $156 million budget increase for the 2023/2024 fiscal year to increase salaries for DCS case managers; update the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System (TFACTS); and improve foster care, residential services, prevention services, and adoption services.

DCS Case Managers Shortage

The number of children going into DCS custody is on the rise, however DCS continues to face significant staffing challenges.

DCS case managers are quitting at record rates. In 2021 DCS had a 47.7% turnover rate for first year case managers. DCS currently has 486 case manager vacancies.

Staffing issues lead to unmanageable caseloads for DCS employees and prevent the department from providing quality care to the Tennessee children it serves.

In the General Assembly we will examine ways to help alleviate the staffing shortage through better pay and training for case workers.

The Comptroller’s audit suggests legislative action to cap maximum actual caseloads per manager to 20 cases. The current caseload max per manager is set at an average of 20 cases which has led to veteran managers taking on up to 60 cases at one time, while first year managers have 10.

"DCS has not achieved compliance with the state’s caseload law, a law which I sponsored, since April 2021," Hensley said.

DCS Commissioner Margie Quin is proposing a temporary public private partnership for DSC to contract out administrative case manager work for 2 years, while the department works towards long-term solutions to staffing challenges.

Quin says this will allow DCS workers to spend more time in the field and less time doing paperwork.

Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System (TFACTS)

TFACTS is vital to DCS’s ability to maintain case management information so DCS management and case managers can make informed decisions about children and families in DCS’s care.

Since TFACTS was implemented in 2010, DCS has been challenged with system functionality issues including delayed foster parents’ payments, slow system processing, and unexpected user logouts. DCS has asked for $69 million in new funding to modernize its information tracking system.

Safe Baby Courts

Lawmakers will consider expanding the Safe Baby Court Program, which provides rehabilitation services to families in crisis who enter the court system with children 36 months or younger. The courts aim to secure permanent placement for those children by focusing on rehabilitating parents who suffer from substance abuse disorders so they can be reunited with their children. Safe Baby Courts have been very successful since they were first implemented in Tennessee in 2017 and have significantly reduced the average time to permanency for custodial cases by 26.2% in 2020 and 23.7% in 2021.

Assessment Treatment Homes

State and local agencies are unable to find appropriate placements for foster children and youth with the most severe behavioral health needs. As a result, these children are staying overnight in inappropriate settings, such as temporary shelters, hotels, offices, and hospitals. To help solve this problem, DCS has identified a need for Assessment Treatment Homes, which can appropriately house high needs youth for 30 days while clinical assessments can be conducted to determine the most appropriate long-term care for those youth.

In the upcoming fiscal year, DCS is requesting 48 new beds for assessment purposes with the goal of having an Assessment Treatment Home in each of the three grand divisions of Tennessee.

These homes would serve a low population of youth with extraordinarily high needs. We will look at this proposal and will prioritize providing quality services for Tennessee’s most vulnerable youth.

The General Assembly will convene Jan. 10 to begin the 113th General Assembly when these issues will be discussed.

Sen. Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville TN 37243, or call 615-741-3100, or call toll free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, or fax 615-253-0231.

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald TN 38462, or call 931-796-2018, his cell phone at 931-212-8823, or e-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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