Early Childhood

Controversy Erupts Anew Over Tenn. Child-Services Agency

By Joetta L. Sack — December 03, 2003 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the latest development in an ongoing controversy, Gov. Phil Bredesen has ordered major changes in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services after a court-ordered audit found the agency was mismanaging many of its obligations to the children it serves.

Gov. Phil Bredesen

But a children’s rights group that contends not enough is being done to remedy the situation has filed another motion related to the case. Filed Nov. 20, the motion asks a federal court in Nashville, Tenn., to intervene because top state officials, the plaintiffs claim, are not doing their jobs.

The agency, which oversees children in foster care, child protective services, and the juvenile-justice system, has had long-standing problems tracking and monitoring the care of those children.

An audit written by a court-appointed monitor this fall found that, among other violations, the department had not properly tracked repeat juvenile offenders, had no proof that its social workers were making the required visits to children in foster care, and did not have a central system for documenting abuses of children in foster homes. The monitor reviewed more than 1,000 case files.

Late last month, Gov. Bredesen, a first-term Democrat, fired the head of the agency, Michael Miller, and appointed a seven-member task force to figure out how the state would meet its obligations under a July 2001 court settlement stemming from a lawsuit alleging similar problems.

That suit, Brian A. v. State of Tennessee, was brought by the New York City-based advocacy group Children’s Rights, the same group that also filed a contempt-of-court motion against the governor and the DCS commissioner. The 2001 lawsuit charged numerous violations by the department. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee agreed, and the state was ordered to comply with a list of recommendations within 54 months.

The state is now in the 28th month of that agreement. Annual audits track the state’s progress.

The Nov. 20 action by Children’s Rights asks the federal court to hold the governor and the commissioner of the children’s services department in contempt of court for failing to comply with the agreement. It also asks for appointment of a special administrator to oversee the settlement.

“We’ve waited over two years for the governor and DCS to make good on the terms of the agreement. And they haven’t even figured out what needs to be done,” Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of Children’s Rights, said in a statement. “To protect the children we represent, we have no choice but to ask the judge to intervene to force compliance and give these children the benefits they need.”

Critical Issue

Gov. Bredesen’s spokeswoman, Lydia Lenker, said last week that the issue was “very critical” to him, but that no timeline had been set for the working group’s actions. The governor’s office has already begun the search for a new commissioner of the children’s service agency.

Mr. Bredesen said that he had confidence in Mr. Miller’s ability to run the agency, but that the agency needed to head in a different direction.

“Over the last several weeks, it has become clear to me that the challenges DCS faces today are on a vastly different scale and necessitate a different kind of leader at the helm altogether,” the governor said in a statement announcing Mr. Miller’s departure. “Given the seriousness of the situation at the department of children’s services, we need a strong manager who has experience bringing about the kind of deep cultural change necessary to move the department forward.”

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Teacher Perspectives: What is the Future of Virtual Education?
Hear from practicing educators on how virtual and hybrid options offer more flexibility and best practices for administrative support.
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Opinion What K-12 Can Learn from Pre-K
Early-childhood education has valuable lessons to share with K-12.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood Which States Offer Universal Pre-K? It's More Complicated Than You Might Think
Universal pre-K is growing in popularity. Here are the states that have already established universal preschool programs or policies.
2 min read
Early Childhood Support for Universal Pre-K Grows as More States Jump on Board
New Mexico became the latest state to approve investments in pre-K programs.
5 min read
A Pre-K student plays with the class guinea pig at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Aug. 17, 2021. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states offering universal pre-k to all students.
A prekindergarten student plays with the class guinea pig at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 2021. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states offering universal pre-K.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Early Childhood As Head Start Quality Push Continues, Advocates Raise Red Flag on Equity
Inadequate federal funding forces Head Start providers to choose between quality and quantity, a new report contends.
2 min read
A multi-ethnic group of preschool students is sitting with their legs crossed on the floor in their classroom. The mixed-race female teacher is sitting on the floor facing the children. The happy kids are smiling and following the teacher's instructions. They have their arms raised in the air.