Nonprofits offer solutions to problems highlighted in Tennessee DCS audit

Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 7:17 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Two nonprofit organizations are offering solutions to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) after it received a scathing audit a week ago.

The audit, released by the state comptroller, uncovered a number of critical failures by the department, including allegations of sexual abuse.

But Disability Rights Tennessee and the Youth Law Center have worked together to provide six key recommendations to Tennessee DCS.

Those behind the report say a major part of the solution investing in families over facilities.

“I think there can be a real temptation to say, you know... we’re keeping you from being abused, and they’ve got food and they’ve got a bed... so we’re done, we fixed it,” said Jasmine Miller with the Youth Law Center. “But the fact of the matter is that food and shelter and physical safety are not enough.”

Both nonprofits say changes at DCS are critical.

“It was really important to both of our organizations that at the forefront of the discussion [is] therapy, [and] families,” said Zoe Jamail with Disability Rights Tenessee. “Emphasis on families, and really, on solutions, and not just on pointing out what the problem is.”

Their report outlines six solutions, including:

  • Investing in family-centered interventions.
  • Utilizing versatile teams to assess youth and family needs.
  • Addressing geographic and racial disparities when it comes to quality service across the state.
  • Building community-based mental health services for youth and families.
  • Focusing on upstream services and re-affirming Tennessee’s commitment to youth justice.

“Memphis does have one of the highest rates of young African American children who are in foster care, in the country,” Miller said. “So there’s some real attention to be paid-- to OK-- what can we be doing, in sort of the child welfare system, that would be meeting the needs of those children, and those families.”

The nonprofits say they both hope to help create a healthy youth justice system in Tennessee.

“We have to have a different way forward,” Jamail said. “That way forward is not more incarceration of youth, it is investing in families and supporting those families and the youth who are a part of them.”

We reached out to DCS for their response to the DRT report, but have not received a response.

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