‘Understaffed,’ ‘disorganized,’ and ‘underfunded’: Tenn. lawmakers plead for DCS assistance

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:42 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The death of a toddler who was placed in a rehab facility with her parents by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is the tipping point for state lawmakers from Shelby County.

They’re asking Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to dip into the state’s billion-dollar budget surplus to give DCS more money to address serious problems at every level.

State Senator London Lamar of Memphis is one of 11 democratic lawmakers who signed a letter to Governor Lee Tuesday urging him to “address the crisis” at the DCS.

The letter calls DCS “severely understaffed,” “disorganized” and “underfunded.”

The problem is so bad that “children are forced to sleep on office floors” in DCS buildings.

”I am heartbroken that we as a state aren’t doing what we need to do, or funding the necessary services in order to protect our children who are our most vulnerable populations,” Senator Lamar told Action News 5. “The state of DCS is horrific.”

During a Nov. 11 budget hearing, DCS Commissioner Margie Quin told Governor Lee that DCS has 486 social worker openings right now, with a first-year turnover rate of 47% for new case managers.

”We think salary increases will help us in these urban areas that are so hard hit,” said Quin, “where it is very difficult to staff at the opening salary of $40,000 requiring a college degree.”

Quin requested a total budget of $1.3 billion, with $156 million in new funding, including $15.8 million earmarked for pay raises.

State Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis also signed the letter.

With more than 8,400 children now in state custody, more than 11,000 needing adoption assistance, and calls coming in every day from burned-out DCS workers pleading for help, Rep. Parkinson said it’s past time for lawmakers to do the right thing.

”You have to ask yourself... what is the price of the life of a child in Tennessee?” said Rep. Parkinson. “You know, we have that financial capacity. We’ve just got to have the will to prioritize our children in the state of Tennessee.”

To view the entire letter sent to Gov. Bill Lee, click here.

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