Waiting to React: Tennessee's child protection failures

Number 25919
Subject Children
Source Tennessean (Nashville, Tenn.)
State Tenn.
Year 2012
Publication Date Sept-Dec, 2012
Summary A lawmaker's concern about child deaths triggered a probing and ongoing Tennessean investigation into the failings and illegal practices of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The newspaper detailed how the department broke the law by not reporting deaths to lawmakers; failed to keep accurate fatality statistics; allowed thousands of child abuse hotline calls to go unanswered; struggled to handle a spike in violence at youth detention centers; and adopted adversarial positions against child advocates, lawmakers, police and the agencies that oversee the department. Led by two reporters, the newspaper has exposed the department's $37 million computer installation debacle, shortcomings in how officials contract with private companies, and how a wave of abrupt senior-level firings made DCS one of the most volatile departments in Tennessee government. Through records requests, data analyses, close readings of reports and audits, and persistent questioning, The Tennessean penetrated the secretive $650 million department and provided a level of accountability just as the department has moved to dismantle other forms of oversight. The reporting prompted Gov. Bill Haslam to personally review DCS case files and forced the department to comply with fatality notification laws. An ongoing open records lawsuit led by The Tennessean and backed by the state's largest ever media coalition now seeks to force DCS to make child fatality records available to the media and the public for the first time.
Category IRE Contest Entry
Pages
Keywords Wadhwani; Gonzalez;child deaths;children;department of children's services
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