Friday, November 12, 2010

Jackson Sun: Improved DCS a tribute to Bredesen, Miller, caseworkers

November 12, 2010

When Gov. Phil Bredesen took office in 2003, the Department of Children's Services was in disarray. Today, the department is one of only seven in the country to be certified by the Council on Accreditation. As Bredesen prepares to leave office in January, he can be proud of how this department has transformed itself and the level of services it offers to some of the state's most vulnerable abused and neglected children.

Tennessean: TN Department of Children's Services shows progress, may soon exit court oversight

By Brian Haas

A judge decided in 2001 that Tennessee's children needed protection from the very agency tasked with protecting them. But nine years later, the group that sued for federal monitoring of the state's child welfare system says Tennessee is almost ready to break free of outside oversight.

The New York-based Children's Rights on Wednesday filed a plan in federal court that paves the way for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services to regain full control of its operations and policy without court monitoring. The plan would allow DCS to be free of the class-action lawsuit ruling if it can meet and maintain all plan goals for 12 straight months.

The move marks a dramatic turnaround in an agency that critics said once warehoused and mistreated abused and neglected children.

"When we filed this lawsuit back in 2000, this agency was grossly mismanaged, overburdened and out of control. It was routinely harming the very kids it was supposed to protect," said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children's Rights. "I think the latest report really illustrates the progress DCS has made with strong leadership, adequate resources and a real commitment to reform for at least the past five to six years."

Gov. Phil Bredesen said in a statement that the plan is a testament to the state's hard work in overhauling a once-broken system.

"We set out to do the hard work it would take to reshape this department, and today DCS is one of the few state child-welfare departments in the nation to become accredited," Bredesen said. "As we begin preparing to exit from the consent decree, we can mark this as one of the significant accomplishments we have made in Tennessee."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

East Region COA Celebration

On September 21, 2010, the East Region took part in their COA Celebration at Lenoir City Park in Loudon County.  This was an opportunity for staff from all over the region to come together to celebrate achieving accreditation, as well as the region’s many accomplishments over the past year, while enjoying great food, fun, and camaraderie.  The theme chosen for this celebration was “tailgating” – after all, it is football time in TN!  Supervisors were asked to utilize their tailgate to recognize each of their staff and their accomplishments over the past year since being accredited.  A cake decorating contest was also held, and several teams signed up to participate in this event.  Finally, staff members were encouraged to wear a shirt with their favorite team (football, basketball, etc.) logo.

It was great to see the large number of staff that turned out, as well as the number of team “tailgates” that were designed and set up for the event.  There were team t-shirts and jerseys everywhere, and a couple of the region’s teams had actually designed their own t-shirts showcasing their favorite team….their own DCS team!  Commissioner Miller and Ted Martinez were on hand from Central Office to present the region with their COA Accreditation plaque, as well as COA Accreditation window decals to display in each county office.  After presenting the region with their plaque and window decals, the Commissioner was presented a UT Vols stadium seat cushion that had been signed by staff in the region.  The East Region RA, Julie Rotella, was also presented a trophy in appreciation of the “coaching” and support provided to the region during the pursuit of accreditation. 

Following the presentations, Commissioner Miller and Ted judged the cake decorating contest for the region.  Who knew that the region had such creative cake decorators!?!  There was a “drug bust” cake, which took first place, a cake in the shape of the DCS/Well Being “Lifts them up!” logo complete with the apple, a cake displaying children’s progression from abuse/neglect to permanency, COA “touchdown” cakes, cakes in the shape of footballs and football fields, and a variety of others.  The region also awarded first place to the Anderson County teams for best tailgate.

Needless to say, this event was a great way for the East Region staff to celebrate achieving accreditation and recognize those accomplishments made over the past year since being accredited.  A very big thank you also goes out to Commissioner Miller and Ted for joining East in this celebration and for serving as judges!  It was definitely a fun-filled day for all! 

By Charles Baumgardner


The Olympic sport of table tennis, more affectionately known as ping pong, and formerly played mostly in basements and carports has smoldered and received little attention here in the southeast for years.

It is time for a change.  Thanks to Mr. Joseph Newgarden and his Newgy Industries, students at the Taft Youth Development Center can now enjoy table tennis on the latest equipment and receive training in the fundamentals of the sport.  Furthermore, this equipment and training is the identical equipment and training being provided to some of the best high schools in the state under the same program as for Taft.

Mr. Newgarden has devoted a lifetime to elevating the sport of table tennis. He is known, not only across this country, but he has been a major contributor to table tennis in Europe, Asia, and even third world countries.

Fortunately for Taft, Mr. Newgarden’s passion for table tennis and promotion of table tennis has led him to the Taft Center.  He has now offered resources to the Center for the establishment of table tennis programs there.  His Taft offer was made and accepted by the forward-looking administration of Mr. Robert Bowen, Superintendent of Taft.

Mr. Newgarden has now assigned the development, establishment, and execution of table tennis programs in East Tennessee to Mr. Bill Neely.  Mr. Neely has an impressive table tennis resume including gold medals in the District and State, and National Senior Olympics.  Additionally, he has won multiple gold medals in the U. S, Open, U. S. Closed, International Veterans, and Huntsman World Senior Games.  These include Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles competitions.  His total medal count and other awards since he resumed table tennis in 1994 is more than 190 after an absence of 31-years..

The Taft program is unlike any other in the State’s history:  Thousands of non-government dollars in new equipment and training, free of charge are offered, requiring only that they play under the prescribed structured program of learning.  The administration is genuinely ecstatic at this offer, which provides another option for improved self esteem, as well as health and well being through an enjoyable physical activity; one which can be used throughout their lives.

The program provides, free of charge to Taft, all of the equipment and training necessary for the formation of solid programs to augment physical education in the Center.  The students are encouraged to use the equipment at any time approved by the administration.  There are several creative ways in which the equipment can be used.  We leave that up to the Administration.

The only conditions for receiving this equipment are that:
  • The equipment be used as described in the proposal.
  • The equipment be maintained and cared for.
  • The schools accept the training in the use and care for the equipment
  • Competitions be held (in class, inter-class, and at some point, with outside entities).
  • All competitive play be recorded on match sheets provided by Newgy.
  • The match sheets be forwarded to Newgy for processing of ratings.
The initial delivery of equipment for teacher training, for each schools includes:
  • Three tournament-grade tables. (Originally only two were promised.)
  • 10-rackets (Beginning level)-competitive rackets are personal, such as tooth brushes, and should be purchased later by the players after they settle on their own style of play.)
  • One-gross of balls (40-mm).
  • Fifteen barriers.
  • One challenge ladder set.
  • Two-hundred match sheets
  • Robots, not delivered at this time. (Need and quantity to be determined later.)
This equipment will be delivered to Taft at 1:30 pm CST on September 16.
The next step is to schedule and train the teachers to teach the sport to the students.

Other equipment for teaching the students will follow after the teachers have been trained and the additional needs have been assessed.

Table tennis, at best, is only fledgling sport on the national level.  Mr. Newgarden has plans to correct this inequity.  This will take time, but we all have heard how a long journey begins. There are currently several colleges who have recognized this and have established table tennis as a sports program within their institutions.  A few are even giving sports scholarships to skilled and deserving athletes.  This, I believe, is a preview of the future.

It is Mr. Newgarden’s greatest desire that every person in the United States have access to table tennis and that they play for health, improvement, and enjoyment.  For a brief profile of Mr. Newgarden, a USATT Hall of Fame member, go to, click of “features”, click on “hall of fame”, scroll to “Newgarden, Joe”.

By Scot Shanks

Exit Strategy Marks Beginning of the End of Brian A.

Federal Court Filing Recognizes Landmark Changes at DCS

NASHVILLE  -- Today, the Tennessee Attorney General, on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and Children’s Rights, Inc., entered a joint filing in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee that recognizes the sweeping reforms that have bettered the lives of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens and plots out the final tasks the department must accomplish before exiting the Brian A. class action lawsuit.

Since 2000, DCS has operated under a federal consent decree negotiated with New York-based Children’s Rights, Inc., which sued the state over its poorly functioning foster care system.

“Public-child welfare reform was a task that this administration inherited and one that we committed to improving,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “We set out to do the hard work it would take to reshape this department, and today DCS is one of the few state child-welfare departments in the nation to become accredited. As we begin preparing to exit from the consent decree, we can mark this as one of thee significant accomplishments we have made in Tennessee. My thanks to Children’s Rights and the employees of DCS who have worked together to improve the system of care for our state’s most vulnerable children.”

“I am very proud of the DCS employees with whom I work,” said Commissioner Miller. “In every county office, our staff, our partners and our resource parents have made the lives of Tennessee’s foster children so much better. Even with these improvements, though, protecting children will always be difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. We know that there is always more that we need to do.”

The Brian A. consent decree established a path to reform the department. Since Governor Bredesen appointed Commissioner Miller in late 2003, DCS has transformed itself, with the active cooperation, guidance and assistance from Children’s Rights and from the Technical Assistance Committee, a group of nationally known child-welfare experts who serve as federal court monitors of the Brian A. consent decree.

The decree set out a series of benchmarks that the department must reach before exiting the suit. Since then, DCS has dramatically improved outcomes for children who come into custody. Siblings, for instance, are placed together far more often. The department has had great success in shifting its resources away from congregate-care settings in favor of family placements. Adoptions freeing children from state custody, which were below 200 annually in 1996, are now running at about 1,000 a year. Case loads have been reduced. Salaries for case managers have improved. A consortium of universities across the state now offer enhanced education and training for those who are dedicating their careers to public child welfare in Tennessee.

By recognizing those tasks that have been accomplished, the department can now focus on finishing those that remain.  These efforts include working even harder on serving the needs of older foster youth and on refining the department’s engagement with foster parents.

The agreement requires the department to meet every provision in the consent decree and to maintain those provisions for 12 months before the department can exit the lawsuit.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Knox Trick or Treat

Dave Hall, SS TL and his family

Pam Keene, CPS TL as Sasha

2nd Place Team - SIU and their version of the Wizard of Oz
Winning Team - Well Being Unit's portrayal of the Wizard of Oz

John McDonald

The JJ Unit as Detention residents

Jacob Akrom, CPS FSW

MSW Carolyn Kiser and her new grandbaby

Edana Boney. CPS FSW and her children
The Knox DCS Office underwent a transformation on Friday, October 29, 2010 as teams decorated their work areas and employees wore costumes to celebrate Halloween with our foster children. More than 150 foster children, as well as the children of DCS employees came through the office from 9 AM to 4 PM to trick or treat. No one left without a bag or bucket full of candy. A friendly decorating contest was held between the teams with Well Being claiming first place. SIU took second and Gary Brooks' team came in at third. In the individual costume contest, Casey Dockery, Transportation Officer, took the first place honors as the Tin Man; second place went to Pam Keene, CPS TL, as Sasha; and the third place award was garnered by Carol Lowdermilk, Health Advocacy Representative, as the Talking Tree from the Wizard of Oz.

The White House Recognizes National Adoption Month

November 01, 2010

Presidential Proclamation--National Adoption Month

Giving a child a strong foundation -- a home, a family to love, and a safe place to grow -- is one of life's greatest and most generous gifts.  Through adoption, both domestic and international, Americans from across our country have provided secure environments for children who need them, and these families have benefited from the joy an adopted child can bring.  Thanks to their nurturing and care, more young people have been able to realize their potential and lead full, happy lives.  This year, we celebrate National Adoption Month to recognize adoption as a positive and powerful force in countless American lives, and to encourage the adoption of children from foster care.

    Currently, thousands of children await adoption or are in foster care, looking forward to permanent homes.  These children can thrive, reach their full potential, and spread their wings when given the loving and firm foundation of family.  Adoptive families come in many forms, and choose to adopt for different reasons:  a desire to grow their family when conceiving a child is not possible, an expression of compassion for a child who would otherwise not have a permanent family, or simply because adoption has personally touched their lives.  For many Americans, adoption has brought boundless purpose and joy to their lives.  We must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families.

 Read the full Presidential Proclamation here

Resource, Adoptive, and Guardianship Parent Payment Message from the Commissioner

Dear Resource, Adoptive, and Guardianship Parents:

I hope this letter finds you doing well and taking pleasure in the autumn season.  As the days become shorter and move by at a faster pace, we cannot forget that the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays will soon be here. Just as each season brings change, we are also experiencing our share as we transition to a new child welfare information system called the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System (TFACTS).  For many years we utilized a computer system called TN-Kids to manage our electronic files for the children and families (biological, resource and adoptive) that we serve.  Several weeks ago, the Department converted into TFACTS; and we fully expect this system to improve the way that we provide and track our day-to-day services.  But, like any change that occurs, we have experienced some “bumps in the road”.  

One of the improvements in our TFACTS system is that we can now generate payments to resource/adoptive parents and providers directly from one computer system (in the past this has required multiple computer systems).  With this change of business, it has resulted in some families experiencing difficulty with foster care board rate and subsidy payments being paid timely and paying correct rate amounts.  If your family has been involved in any of these problems, we want to offer a sincere apology to you.  Many of these problems were as a result to the conversion to the new system and unpreventable.  At this time, we are confident that we have identified all of these families that have been affected; and that we are resolving each individual issue and getting payments processed.  The corrections to each identified problem within the system should allow timely payments going forward; but if your family has experienced or experiences problems with payments in the future, we are asking that you contact us at 1-866-576-4412 to share the problems that you are experiencing. This line is being set-up to deal directly with any payment issues.   As you leave a message, please share the county that you live in and the names and dates of birth of the children that you are experiencing problems with.  Once leaving a message, you can expect a return call within 24 hours to follow-up.  If you like, you can contact the local office, but in order to address your concerns quickly, we would ask you to use the number above.  The last thing that we would want is for families to miss an opportunity to bring this to our attention and allow it to create larger problems for you and the children in your home.  In addition, I want to share that we are temporarily postponing the use of the PHONE IN system for foster care board payment verification.  Payments will be able to be generated on schedule without the use of this system; and when we are ready to resume this process, we will contact you to ensure that you have the needed pin numbers for children in your home and have the proper instructions.

As stated earlier, we are confident that we have gotten resolution on all back payments that have been created at this time, and we want to make sure that you assist us in identifying and resolving any that might happen in the future.  Just as we appreciate your patience with us during this transition, we are most thankful of your decision to provide support to Tennessee’s children by giving them temporary and permanent homes and likewise want to provide a comparable level of support to you. 

Dr. Viola Miller
Dept. of Children’s Services