News

DCS Gets Leeway with Federal Funds

The Department of Children’s Services is receiving leeway from U.S. officials in spending money intended for foster children, with the goal of keeping children out of foster care, the Tennessean reports. Until now, DCS has had to spend approximately $40 million in annual federal dollars, known as federal title IV-E funds, to pay foster parents and provide services to kids who have already been taken from their families and placed into state custody. Beginning next October, the agency will be able to use "waivers" to spend grants on a wider variety of interventions designed to keep kids safely out of the foster care system. 

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Red Shoe Masquerade Raises Funds for CASA

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will host its Eighth Annual Red Shoe Masquerade and Silent Auction Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City. Dress is cocktail attire. Red shoes are encouraged. The event is the agency’s primary fundraiser and community awareness activity for the year. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.casanetn.org or call (423) 461-3500. All proceeds will support the group's work with abused and neglected children.

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Governor Names Judge Scott to Child Protection Board

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has named Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott as one of seven to represent the judicial branch in the Three Branches Institute. The institute is an initiative of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) that brings together members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches to strengthen the state’s child protection and juvenile justice systems. The group is looking at how the state’s child protection system works; how standardized assessments are used by the courts and DCS; whether to implement uniform data collection processes; how alternatives to incarceration may be used in juvenile cases; and how to allocate resources to support community-driven solutions. It will continue working through August 2014. WGNS Radio has the story.

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Courthouse Dog Demonstrates New Clarksville Program

During an informational meeting hosted yesterday by the Clarksville's District Attorney’s Office and the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, canine companion Molly B was a big hit, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The black Labrador-Golden Retriever has been trained for two years to care for the physical and emotional needs of people who need assistance, and can follow orders to sit, stand, lay down, roll over and speak with precision. In November, the district attorney’s office will receive a facility dog that can be used in court, at the child advocacy center, or at other facilities throughout the 19th Judicial District where a victim may need therapeutic comfort or emotional support.

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Panel Meets to Evaluate DCS, Juvenile Processes

A panel of seven state agency commissioners, eight elected representatives and seven judges — known as the Three Branches Institute — will meet Thursday to discuss ways to improve the state’s child protective services and juvenile justice system. The members of the group, which also includes first lady Crissy Haslam, have met quarterly since August 2012 to align services among the branches of government. A Department of Children’s Services news release said the members are seeking to develop standardized assessments to be used by the courts and guide DCS in data collection. The group also is investigating alternatives to juvenile incarceration. The meeting will be its last one for the year, The Tennessean reports.

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DCS to Release Child Fatality Records at No Cost

The Department of Children’s Services will release at no cost all records from July 2012 going forward of children who died or nearly died while in its custody, the Tennessean reports. During an ongoing legal battle with the Tennessean and other news organizations to release the files, DCS originally said it would charge the news organizations over $30,000 to make copies of more than 200 records from January 2009 to June 2012. In response to a second request from The Tennessean and other media groups for more recent records spanning the period from July 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013, the agency again set a high price tag. This week however, an attorney for the agency said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry now views releasing the records as part of the agency’s day-to-day responsibilities.

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CASA Holds Information Session Monday in Jonesborough

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Northeast Tennessee is looking for additional volunteers to represent children in the judicial system as well as community leaders to serve on its board of directors. The agency will hold an information session for prospective volunteers on Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Hutson & Howell Mediation Office, 132 Boone St., Ste 6, Jonesborough 37659. The Johnson City Press reports on the unmet needs in the region.

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Baby Messiah Case Back in Court

An appeal of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s decision to change a baby’s name from Messiah to Martin will be heard tomorrow in Cocke County Chancery Court. A brief filed on behalf of the family argues that Ballew originally ruled to keep the baby’s first name but later that decision was "whited out" in the court record. Ballew later called a second hearing where she changed the child's name to Martin saying, "Messiah is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ." Fox News reports on the story.

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Hamilton Juvenile Court Going Electronic

At the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, clerks are "drowning in paper," but box by box, that's changing, the Times Free Press reports. Gary Behler, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court clerk, began a massive document-scanning project Aug. 5 that will digitize more than 25,000 records for the juvenile court and the child support division. In addition to saving space, the project will allow attorneys and judges to view electronic files simultaneously on monitors in courtrooms. In addition, the new system will allow child support clerks to apply payments immediately and pull up data for payees and recipients. Finally, new video monitors are being installed in the courtrooms so that arraignments may be handled remotely. The changes are part of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw’s effort to streamline logistics at the court.

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Shelby Judicial Officials Reflect on Sentencing Changes

In a video interview with the Memphis Daily News, Shelby County’s Public Defender Stephen Bush and County Corrections Division Director James Coleman say county courts and prisons are improving, but more intervention should take place before citizens come into contact with the justice system. “The prison system is probably the worst place to engage people … struggling with other life issues,” Bush said. The program is the second in a series of interviews reflecting on changes in federal prosecution guidelines announced last month by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The first installment featured District Attorney General Amy Weirich and U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton. Watch that interview here.

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Parents, Grandparents Subject to Same Visitation Standard

A ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday puts parents and grandparents on equal footing in disputes over modifications to court-ordered grandparent visitation. While Tennessee case law gives parents a “presumption of superior parental rights” in initial visitation decisions, the court ruled that such presumption does not exist for subsequent decisions to modify or terminate visitation. The ruling now requires both parties to satisfy the same legal standard – that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that modification or termination of visitation is in the child’s best interests. Download the opinion.

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DCS Partners with TBI to Improve Caseworkers' Training

The CPS Investigations Academy is a new joint venture between the Department of Children’s Services and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation intended to increase the level of instruction for child protective services workers. Taught by TBI agents and national child abuse investigation experts, the three-week program will graduate its first class in December. “In many cases, DCS makes the determination whether a crime has been committed,” said TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quinn, who oversees TBI investigations into sex trafficking. “But in some cases, you may not have a worker trained well enough to make that determination,” the Tennessean reports.

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Shelby County Public Defender to Create Juvenile Defense Unit

The Shelby County Public Defender’s office has been allocated $2 million in state and local funds to create a juvenile defenders unit, as it was directed to do by the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation found deficiencies in the juvenile court system. “These funds will be used to hire additional attorneys and other professional staff to create a specialized juvenile defender unit within the public defender’s office, and also to meet the county’s obligation to support the work of members of the private bar who agree to take court appointments in Juvenile Court,” Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender, told the Commercial Appeal.

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DA Offers Bikes for School Attendance

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is offering a bike to students with perfect attendance in 12 elementary and middle schools in the county school system. The Bike Rewards program is funded by the Hyde Family Foundation and is part of the office’s Truancy Reduction Program. Bicycles will be awarded at the end of the school year to students who have no absences and no tardy occurrences for the entire year. Read more in the Memphis Daily News.

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Child’s Death Highlights DCS Computer Issues

A Chattanooga couple accused of child abuse and murder returned to court today in a case that is shedding new light on how computer problems within the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) impacted caseworkers’ ability to protect children. In this case, a 4-year-old died Dec. 19, 2011, after suffering multiple blunt force injuries. Prosecutors believe the child was beaten by his mother and her live-in boyfriend. In the weeks before the death, at least three claims of child abuse were called into DCS by family members and educators. But in a mix-up that DCS later blamed on its computer system, the abuse reports were assigned to different caseworkers with the result that neither fully knew the extent of the allegations.

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Family Still Seeking Answers Year After Teen’s Death

The family of Brentwood teen Kendall Oates is still seeking answers about their son a year after he died in Department of Children’s Services (DCS) custody, The Tennessean reports. DCS records show Oates, who suffered from seizures, may have lain sick or dead for hours, undetected by a security guard who was supposed to check on him every 15 minutes. In addition, DCS was required to administer anti-seizure medication, but the autopsy found no trace of the medicine in his body. Finally, Oates was not wearing his lifesaving anti-seizure wristband, which he was required to wear at all times. Oates’ parents have tried to get their son’s records to no avail. And now that a year has passed, a wrongful death suit is not an option. Meanwhile, DCS closed its investigation, finding that the teenager died of natural causes.

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Williamson County CASA Hires New Executive Director

Marianne Schroer has been hired as the new executive director of Williamson County CASA (WCCSA). She will take over as of Sept. 3, the Nashville Post reports. Schroer has more than 30 years experience as a licensed psychological examiner and has an extensive background in nonprofit work. “Marianne possesses a unique set of skills that will only enhance this challenging and critical role,” Alex Marks, WCCASA board president, said in a release. “With a background in both the nonprofit and counseling sectors, the board believes that she is in the position to quickly make a deep imprint on the community we serve. We are looking forward to seeing the ripple effects of her work.”

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Judge Bailey Reflects on Career

Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Suzanne Bailey is enjoying retirement after 30 years on the bench. In an editorial in the Hamilton County Herald this week she reflects back on her career. A 1975 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Bailey began working with juveniles on one of her very first cases. She was so touched by the experience, she asked to be placed on the appointment list at juvenile court. “I enjoyed taking appointments there. We didn’t get paid...but my heart attached to juvenile court and the children who came through there,” she says. Bailey went on to become the first woman elected to any judgeship in the county when she became juvenile judge in 1982. Bailey, who retired in April, says her only advice to successor Judge Rob Philyaw is simple: “Have the heart of a servant.”

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New Court for Drug-Dependent Moms to Open in Knoxville

Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin announced this week that a new drug court for drug-dependent moms will open Sept. 1, Knoxnews reports. Under the program, Knox First Family Recovery will work with the mothers, and judges gradually will give them more time with their kids as they progress. Irwin unveiled the court at the 30th annual Joint Conference on Juvenile Justice, which drew nearly 500 juvenile judges and court workers from across the state. Funding for the effort will come from a federal grant administered by the state. Dirk Weddington, a Juvenile Court magistrate, will help supervise the program and work with local treatment providers.

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Juvenile Court Collecting Stuffed Animals

The Anderson County Juvenile Court is holding a stuffed animal drive this week to provide the comfort of a furry friend to children who have to appear before the court. New stuffed animals may be dropped off at Stokes Lighting & Electric, 6220 Papermill Rd. in Knoxville or Anderson County Co-Op, 110 S. Charles G Seivers Blvd. in Clinton. For more information contact Rebecca Franklin at (865) 712-2091 or rfranklinrnjd@gmail.com.

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TBJ: When She Lies About Paternity

What are the consequences of lying about who the father of a child is? Lacy A. Daniel explores intentional misrepresentation of paternity, in the August Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. It comes with a pretty sweet picture on the cover, too. (This baby, whose paternity is not in question, is the child of former TBA Access to Justice Coordinator Sarah Hayman.)

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Judge Releases DCS Record, Redaction Questions Raised

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy on Monday turned over to The Tennessean and other media dozens of state records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services. “The department is back on track,” McCoy said. But Nashville Public Radio reports that the state may have released too much information, failing to delete details like children’s ages and addresses. Commissioner Jim Henry says the department hired outside paralegals to go through the files and that “everybody doesn’t redact in the same way” but assured those concerned it was not their intent to release information that should have been protected. The Tennessean reports that 90 additional case files will be released on Aug. 21.

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FBI Trafficking Sting Hits 11 in Tennessee

In 76 cities across the country, FBI agents arrested more than 150 people — including at least three in Memphis and eight in Chattanooga — who were involved in sex trafficking. The operation, conducted over the weekend, also freed more than 100 sexually exploited minors, officials said. In Memphis, three were arrested for forcing a 14-year-old girl into prostitution according to The Commercial Appeal. In Chattanooga, eight people were arrested on pimping charges while 11 women were arrested for prostitution, Knoxnews reports.

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DCS Commissioner Praises Youth Court

Jim Henry, newly installed head of the state Department of Children's Services, was in Jackson last week to learn more about programs offered through the local juvenile court. After a presentation about the Madison County Youth Court, Henry praised the program saying he would like to see it expanded. To learn more about youth courts, visit the TBA’s youth court site or contact Youth Court Coordinator Denise Bentley, who helps communities establish alternative sentencing programs for non-violent youth offenders across the state. Henry’s comments were covered by WBBJ TV.

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Northeast CASA Plans Golf Tournament

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 8th Annual Golf Tournament Aug. 19 at the Johnson City Country Club. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at noon. The event, a four-person scramble, includes lunch and a number of door prizes. Participants are encouraged to raise $400, which will support a child for one year, or pay the $100 players fee. Sponsorship opportunities include cart sponsorship for $100, hole sponsorship for $250 and tournament sponsorship for $1,000. For more information or to register call (423) 461-3500, email Executive Director Leslie Dalton or visit the agency’s website.

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