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Tennessee Democrats urge Bill Lee to take action to reform DCS

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WKRN) — In a letter addressed to Gov. Bill Lee, 11 Democratic state legislators say it is “just cruel” for the state not to take immediate action to reform Tennessee’s child welfare service.

“We respectfully ask you to take immediate action to remedy the situation in the interests of our children,” the authors of the letter said.

From kids sleeping on office floors to case managers feeling “traumatized” to nearly 500 job vacancies, the problems plaguing DCS are no secret.

While Gov. Lee has hinted that he will make DCS one of his priorities in the upcoming state budget, Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Davidson and other Tennessee Democrats are noting that the money won’t be available until July, when the department makes an increase receives.

“We need to do something about this immediately, so our letter is just asking the governor to do something about it immediately,” Campbell said.

Campbell is proposing that the governor call a special legislative session to address concerns at DCS and/or provide a portion of the state’s estimated $1.5 billion in “rainy daily funds.”

“It’s just irresponsible for me that in this situation we agree to have children,” she said.

When asked if it would take immediate action regarding DCS, the governor’s office did not directly address the letter but said it was working to resolve these issues.

“Like nearly every state nationwide, the Tennessee Department of Children has been hardest hit by workforce challenges, which the department has addressed through consistent pay increases for clerks and will continue to prioritize in the upcoming FY23-24 budget. Public service is a calling, and in order to recruit and retain highly qualified case workers, DCS has made significant budget requests to ensure the department can offer competitive wages and benefits. The Lee administration is committed to solving these challenges and serving the children of Tennessee,” a spokesman for Gov. Lee said in a statement.

When asked Monday about short-term solutions for DCS, Lee mentioned the privatization of some services. In its budget request, the department requested $11.4 million for “private provider case management.”

“We need a solution that works and we will look for alternatives that provide that, whatever the method,” the governor said.

However, while talks continue and future plans are in the works, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that conditions for children at DCS need to be improved.