News

DCS Rehires Director Fired in January

Interim Commissioner of the Department of Children’ Services Jim Henry has rehired Debbie Miller, the agency’s former executive director of family and child well-being, the Nashville City Paper reports. Miller was removed from the department in early January by former commissioner Kathyrn O’Day. “The department had a recent vacancy and Commissioner Henry asked Ms. Miller to return. He has known her work for many years and respects her skills and experience in the area of child welfare,” a spokeswoman for DCS said.

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AOC Seeking Proposals for Grant Funding

Organizations offering parent education or victim offender reconciliation programs have until mid-April to apply for funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). The AOC has approximately $200,000 in grant funds available for the development or continuation of parent education initiatives. Proposals must be provided by April 22. The AOC is also accepting requests for funding for Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs. These must be provided to the AOC by April 23.

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Attorney’s Police Aspirations Evolved into Legal Career

Memphis native Shayla Purifoy had planned to become a police officer before deciding that the legal profession was the right fit for her. She began working on domestic violence cases through a general civil litigation clinic after taking a social welfare and policy course at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Now with Memphis Area Legal Services, Purifoy works with immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. “I just enjoy helping people,” she told the Memphis Daily News.

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Court Affirms End to 'John B.' TennCare Agreement

The 15-year-old legal agreement that mandated regular medical and dental care for some 750,000 of the state’s poorest children was thrown out today by a federal appeals court, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld federal judge Thomas Wiseman Jr.'s decision that Tennessee is now meeting federal requirements, effectively terminating the “John B.” agreement that had mandated compliance. Attorneys from the Tennessee Justice Center, which filed the original suit, say there are still serious concerns over whether children are receiving the services to which they are entitled.

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Bills Take on Drug Addiction and Pregnancy

A proposal that would put pregnant women at the front of the line for drug treatment programs passed a state House subcommittee Tuesday. The “Safe Harbor Act” also would prevent newborns from being taken from families by the Department of Children’s Services solely because of drug use during pregnancy. It is one of four proposals concerning babies born addicted to prescription drugs working their way through the General Assembly, the Tennessean reports. The bill now moves to the Health Committee.

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2 Proposals Take Aim at Epidemic of Drug-Addicted Newborns

State lawmakers are at odds as proposed bills attempt to tackle the issue of the steadily rising number of prescription drug-addicted newborns in Tennessee from two completely different approaches. The Safe Harbor Act, which would give pregnant women incentives to enter drug treatment programs, passed the Senate and will be taken up by a House subcommittee on health today. The subcommittee on criminal justice is scheduled to consider a bill that would criminally prosecute pregnant women whose drug use harms the baby. The flurry of legislation comes on the heels of a statewide push by the Health Department to confront the worsening epidemic, the Tennessean reports.

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DCS: Computer System Mostly Fixed

The Department of Children's Services reported on Friday that all major problems with its computer system have been fixed, and that a list of 1,700 defects identified a year ago has been reduced to just 383 minor issues. After a review of agency data, Commissioner Jim Henry said that 14 children died in DCS custody in 2011, while 11 more died in 2012. Henry said he hopes to be able to report "in the near future" on the larger group of children who died after having some interaction with DCS but were not taken into custody. DCS previously reported that at least 73 children fell into that category. WBIR Channel 10 has the story.

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Bill Would Raise Standard for Protection Orders

State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville has introduced legislation that he says will help “avoid abuse of the judicial system by making it tougher to get orders of protection,” the Elizabethton Star, reports. But the director of a domestic violence prevention group says it could put more women in danger. HB 1128 would raise the level of proof needed for a one-year order of protection from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” Hill said he introduced the bill to begin a conversation on the issue, leaving the door open to further revision.

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DCS Promises Swift, Deliberate Fixes

Officials now heading up the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) say they’re seeking swift, but deliberate solutions to problems that have plagued the agency -- though they still are not able to give a definitive answer about how many children who have come into contact with DCS have died. Interim Commissioner Jim Henry told The Tennessean that the agency’s $27 million computer system appears to be improving as glitches are found and fixed. Larry Martin, a longtime aide to Gov. Bill Haslam, also is on board and promises to deal with whatever problems are found. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Court Upholds Mother’s Parental Rights

The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s ruling that termination of a mother’s parental rights was not in the best interest of the children. In 2002, a Bradley County couple divorced and entered into a parenting plan for their two minor children. The mother was incarcerated in 2003 after pleading guilty to attempted second degree murder of the father. The mother and father entered into an amended parenting plan stipulating that they would follow the original plan upon the mother’s release from prison. In 2009, the father remarried and sought to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals ruling that the father and stepmother established clear and convincing evidence that the termination was in the best interest of the children.

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Courthouse Shooting Leave 3 Dead in Delaware

A shooting at the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday morning has left two women dead. The gunman, who authorities say “spent years in court battles over custody disputes,” also exchanged gunfire with police before being fatally shot. After the shooting, police searched the courthouse and area streets remained closed Monday night. Officials said the courthouse would be closed Tuesday while repairs are made and authorities continue their investigation, WRCB in Chattanooga reports. In its story about the incident, the ABA Journal reported that the women, one of whom was the shooter's estranged ex-wife, were at the courthouse for a custody hearing.

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DCS Head Resigns; Interim Commissioner Named

Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned today, leaving behind a child welfare department struggling with numerous issues, reports The Tennessean. O’Day’s departure comes a day before a legislative hearing at which she had been scheduled to speak and a day after the department said it would cost at least $55,585 to gather and release child deaths records being sought in a lawsuit. Over the past year, DCS has faced scrutiny over a series of problems, including the death of children in state care, inaccurate data about the deaths, a child abuse hotline that left calls unanswered, a spike in violence at juvenile detention centers, a computer system that doled out improper payments and a high level of executive staff turnover. Gov. Bill Haslam named Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to replace O’Day as interim commissioner.

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Sumner CASA Receives 3 Grants

The Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Sumner County recently was awarded nearly $30,000 in grants from three organizations, reports The Tennessean. The funding came from The Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund ($5,900), The Memorial Foundation ($20,000) and The Tennessee Bar Foundation ($3,500). Funds will be used to train and support volunteers to advocate for the abused and neglected children in the county.

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DCS Ordered to Produce Child Death Records in One Week

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to turn over child fatality records within seven days and to overhaul its fatality review process within 90 days, reports The Tennessean. Judge Todd J. Campbell said he has become impatient with the agency’s inability to accurately count child deaths and that time is running out for DCS to fix the computer system it uses to keep records. Also last week, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed a special adviser to probe the department, naming his former mayoral deputy and retired Knoxville banker Larry Martin to the post.

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Judge Hopes to Expand Drug Court for Moms

Shelby County Drug Court Judge Tim Dwyer sees the good his court is doing and wants to expand it. There are 13 mothers in the program, affecting 45 children, but he would like to be able to offer the services to 30 women. The special drug court pairs Dwyer up with the district attorney's office, juvenile court and Memphis police. If a mother gives birth to a baby addicted to drugs, she's now charged with reckless endangerment. Her only options are jail time or the treatment program. "We've got a long way to go," Dwyer says, "but at least were doing something." ABC24.com has the story

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Judge Orders DCS to Release Child Death Records

Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy this week ordered the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to release the forms it fills out when a child dies in its care. Each form provides information about the child’s cause of death, the department’s prior involvement, and prior services provided to the child. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed Dec. 19, 2012, by The Tennessean and a coalition of a dozen other news organizations. Responding to the court, Gov. Bill Haslam said the state would provide the records, reports The Tennessean. In related news, officials announced yesterday they had discovered nine more cases of children who died during the past two years while under the supervision of DCS. The News Sentinel has more on that story.

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Judge to Review DCS Records

Chancellor Carol McCoy said today in court that she will review a sample of records of children who died after being brought to the attention of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in order to determine whether the agency is required to release child fatality records. McCoy presides over the lawsuit brought by the Tennessean and a coalition of other news organizations against DCS for allegedly violating the Tennessee Public Records Act by declining to disclose the records of about 30 children who died in the first half of 2012 while under the agency’s supervision.

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Kansas Sues Sperm Donor for Child Support

The Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) is suing a sperm donor for child support despite his written agreement with a lesbian couple to relinquish parental rights, the ABA Journal reports. Although the Kansas Supreme Court refused to allow a sperm donor to assert parental rights in a case five years ago, the DCF says the written agreement is void and the law doesn’t apply since a physician did not perform the artificial insemination. The nonbiological mother of the child who supports her has been unable to work reportedly due to health problems.

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Report: Child Protection Improvements Needed

According to the 2012 Annual Report by the Second Look Commission, investigations into severe child abuse cases were left incomplete and failed to address the complicated needs of the family. The 23-page report details eight areas in which Tennessee can improve the protection of children including providing more training for child abuse investigators, Department of Children’s Services (DCS) caseworkers, mental health providers and law enforcement.

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Russia Passes Ban on U.S. Adoptions

Lawmakers in Moscow effectively banned Americans from adopting Russian children by passing a bill that imposes a series of sanctions on U.S. interests, WCYB News reports. The move is widely seen as retaliation against the Magnitsky Act, which President Obama signed on Dec. 14. That law imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia. Russia is one of the top countries of origin for international adoptions in the United States, behind only China, with more than 60,000 Russian children joining American families in the past 20 years.

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Judge Highlights Success in Child Support Collections

At a recent meeting of the 15th Judicial District Bar Association, Judge Clara Byrd congratulated attorneys in the area for their diligent efforts and positive working relationship with the courts, which resulted in successful collection of child support payments in the district. Byrd reported that the local district attorney general’s office collected a higher percentage of child support obligations over the last 12 months than any other judicial district in the state.

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Task Force Working to Improve Child Protection Efforts

A task force on child protection wants more consistency in how reports of abuse are investigated and how decisions about criminal charges are made in the state. The group, comprised of Department of Children's Services (DCS) officials, doctors, law enforcement, attorneys and child advocates, is set to release a draft of its findings next month, Knoxnews.com says. In its report, the task force is expected to recommend that investigative teams train together; that communication be improved between DCS, law enforcement and community service agencies; and that additional funding be provided to hire more caseworkers and increase current caseworkers’ salaries.

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Court Grants Review in 2 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in two cases. The first case is one of first impression and addresses whether criminal contempt in a civil domestic relations case is subject to collateral attack in a post-conviction proceeding. The second concerns jury instructions where two offenses are committed during a common criminal episode. Read more about the issues and predictions as to how the new cases may be decided in the Raybin Perky Hotlist

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Justices Struggle with International Custody Law

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether American courts have any further say in a custody dispute between a U.S. soldier and a Scottish woman over their daughter, the Associated Press reports. In a complicated international custody fight, the justices seemed concerned by the idea that a foreign parent could escape U.S. court jurisdiction simply by leaving the country. WDEF.com has the story. 

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Haslam to Focus on Reducing Domestic Violence Rate

Gov. Bill Haslam says that while the crime rate is showing an overall decline in Tennessee, instances of aggravated assault, prescription drug abuse and domestic violence remain a major concern for his administration. He stated yesterday that domestic violence accounts for about half of all crimes committed in the state each year. This year, Haslam introduced and signed into law a measure to require mandatory jail time for repeat convictions for domestic violence, but it is too soon to tell if it has made a significant difference. Gov. Haslam said his Cabinet will continue to work with law enforcement to seek ways to reduce violent crimes and drug abuse.

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