Editorial: Bill will make voluntary DCS reporting mandatory

Apr. 15, 2014 @ 11:56 PM

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has been embroiled in controversy the past few years because a number of children died after their cases were brought to state attention.

A bill currently awaiting the governor’s signature goes toward requiring the massive organization to keep better records and be both more transparent and more accountable to the state’s citizenry.

Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), who represents Sevier County in the state senate, was a sponsor of the bill (SB2112), which sets minimum disclosure requirements for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services after a fatality or near fatality of a child.

The bill would put the reporting standards voluntarily implemented by DCS Commissioner Jim Henry regarding investigations of abuse and neglect on the state’s books permanently.

The move would make sure future administrations continue to follow the higher standards, which resulted — in part — from a coalition of state media organizations suing DCS, after it refused to release the records under a previous commissioner’s leadership.

“This legislation just makes certain that the state continues to disclose information regarding deaths or near fatalities of children in DCS custody as implemented by Commissioner Henry when he took the helm of this department,” said Overbey. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the children entrusted into the care of the state. We just want to see that this open policy continues down the road, regardless of who is in control.”

While the reporting would redact the minor children’s names from documents, it would require DCS to release the child’s age, gender, and a history of the department’s involvement with the child within five business days of the child’s fatality as a result of abuse or neglect.

“At the closure of DCS’s investigation, the department must release the final disposition of the case, whether the case meets criteria for a child death review, and the full case file,” Overbey’s office said. “Following DCS’s final classification of a child abuse or neglect near fatality, the department would be required to release a full case file.

“It is very important that we address these very serious matters as openly as possible,” added Overbey. “I am pleased that the Senate has approved the bill and that this administrative policy will soon become law so that these actions will be permanent.”

It’s a good move on the part of the state to ensure a system of checks and balances exist, especially when a branch of the state government — the Department of Children’s Services — manages such precious, and often helpless, lives.