News

DCS Appeals Cap on Document Production Charges

Lawyers for the Department of Children’s Services say they will appeal a judge’s ruling limiting how much the agency can charge for records of children who died or nearly died in its care. Instead of the 50-cent per page cost ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy, lawyers for the state argue the department will spend thousands of dollars to hire, train and supervise contract paralegals to review the records before making them public. By its internal calculations, DCS predicts it will cost $5 a page or an average of $212 for each case to produce the records.

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Sumner Teen Court Holding Fundraiser This Week

The Sumner County Teen Court program will host its annual scholarship benefit dinner and silent auction on Thursday.  The event will take place at Hendersonville Christian Academy, 355 Old Shackle Island Rd., Nashville 37075. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by contacting Tammy Kellogg at (615) 451-6035. The annual event honors the legacy of Mary Ann Williams, who spent 20 years with the Department of Children Services and was instrumental in creating the state’s first teen court in Sumner County, the Tennessean reports.

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DCS Disciplines Workers Over Child Death Record Keeping

The state Department of Children’ Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees on the Child Fatality Review Team for deleting child death records and leaving out “significant portions” of the team’s meeting minutes in records provided to media, the Memphis Daily News Reports. The Tennessean and other news organizations sued for the child fatality records to be released but found that the redacted records also had information removed which should have been made public.

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Judge Optimistic about DCS’ New Leadership, Processes

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell, who is overseeing changes at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS), expressed cautious optimism that the agency's new leadership can resolve some of its problems, the Associated Press reports. At a hearing Monday, lawyers for the department said DCS has created a process for tracking and reviewing the deaths and near deaths of children the agency has tried to help. Campbell said the department was addressing the concerns he raised in January but he is waiting to see the final results. WATE News 5 in Knoxville has the story.

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Investiture for New Juvenile Judge on Wednesday

An investiture ceremony for new Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw will take place Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Juvenile Court, 1600 E. 3rd St., Chattanooga. Philyaw replaces Judge Suzanne Bailey, whose retirement is effective at the end of April.

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CASA Plans Fundraiser, Volunteer Training

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 5th Annual Benefit Motorcycle Ride on May 11 at Smith Brothers Harley Davidson in Johnson City. Registration begins at 10 a.m. The ride starts at 11 a.m. A $10 donation is requested per rider. Food and drinks will be provided after the ride. The event also will feature a corn hole tournament from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information contact the agency at (423) 461-3500 or admin@casanetn.org. In other news, the agency also recently announced it would conduct training for new volunteers on May 28.

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Commissioner Questions Quick Appointment of Juvenile Judge

After last week’s appointment of Rob Philyaw as the next Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge, one commissioner is crying foul, the Times Free Press reports. On April 11, commissioners appointed Philyaw over two other finalists -- Juvenile Magistrate Troy McDougal and attorney Curtis Bowe -- to replace Suzanne Bailey, who is retiring. Greg Beck, one of three commissioners who supported Bowe, said the ease with which Philyaw was appointed suggests politics were at play, even raising questions, he said, about Philyaw’s experience and motivation for seeking the appointment.

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DCS Announces Shakeup After Child-Deaths Debacle

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) yesterday unveiled the results of an internal shakeup following months of criticism about its ability to track the death of children in its custody. Under the reorganization, three top deputies have been reassigned or relieved of duties, while a fourth announced his retirement. Two new deputy commissioners — one for child health and one for child safety — will fill new positions that will focus on training Child Protective Services workers and strengthening internal investigations. Finally, the plan calls for collaborating with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to train caseworkers on how to evaluate drug use and other potential criminal behavior. The Tennessean has details on the plan.

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Knox County to Consolidate Juvenile Services

Knox County officials broke ground Friday on a building project to consolidate all juvenile court and child support services in the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center. The addition of four new courtrooms as well as space for county clerks and clerical documents will streamline the process for many families, according to the Knoxnews. Moving juvenile and child support offices from the downtown courthouse also will free up space that that had become so cluttered it was a safety hazard according to Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. The cost of the project is estimated at $3 million. Construction should be completed in a year.

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Nashville High School Launches Youth Court

Nashville's Cane Ridge High School is launching a youth court this week under the auspices of its Academy of Law. The installation ceremony for student court members is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. The first hearing date will be Friday. The new Cane Ridge Restorative Court is collaboration between the TBA, Metropolitan Nashville Juvenile Court, Metro-Student Attendance Center and the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Student Services Department. The court has been in the planning stages for a year and is made possible through a grant from the Memorial Foundation. It will focus on truancy and disorderly conduct cases. For more information contact TBA Youth Court Coordinator Denise Bentley at (615) 277-3207 or dbentley@tnbar.org. Learn more about youth courts on the TBA website.

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Juvenile Judge Guffee Reflects on First Months in Office

Sharon Guffee, who took office in December as Williamson County’s first juvenile court judge, not only is settling in to her new role, but also is making plans for the future, Franklin Home Page reports. One item on the wish list is a larger facility for the court, which shares a building with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, county jail, juvenile detention center and Alternative Learning Center, which is overflowing with more than 70 students. Guffee says the court outgrew the current space long ago. In an interview with the news website, Guffey also talks about her experience as a private attorney and as the county’s juvenile magistrate.

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Philyaw Named Juvenile Court Judge

The Hamilton County Commission this morning selected Robert D. Philyaw as the county’s new juvenile judge. The Chattanoogan reports that he was one of 10 applicants seeking to replace retiring Judge Suzanne Bailey. Philyaw, a solo practioner and municipal judge in Graysville, will serve until the next general election set for August 2014. A 2001 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law, Philyaw has focused his practice on estate and probate cases, litigation and criminal defense. He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and co-chair of its Hometown Support Subcommittee.

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CASA Hosts Red Shoe Party

The 14th Annual Red Shoe Party is a cocktail dinner event benefiting Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) chapter located in Nashville. The event will be held Saturday at the Pinnacle at Symphony Place at 7 p.m. and will feature a dance and auction. Jane Andrews, CASA executive director in Nashville, said the event is “a fun and exciting way to communicate the mission of CASA to a broad spectrum of the Nashville community who may not be aware that child abuse is a significant issue in our own city. It is an opportunity for people to make a difference in the lives of these child victims and give them hope for a safe, permanent home." Visit www.casa-nashville.org for tickets.

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Candidates Interview for Juvenile Judge

Candidates seeking to replace Juvenile Judge Suzanne Bailey offered suggestions on how they would improve the juvenile justice system in Hamilton County during public interviews. Ideas included jailing parents of truant children, holding Saturday court, and allowing reformed youth to determine punishments for new youth offenders. Judge Bailey announced in February that she will retire April 30. Commissioners plan to name her replacement next Thursday. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more. 

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Media Requests DCS Death Records Released at No Cost

The Tennessean and other media groups asked Chancellor Carol McCoy to require the Department of Children’s Services to release at no cost information about the deaths of children who had come in contact with the state agencies. After the successful lawsuit to require the state to release the documents, officials said it would cost more than $34,000, which the groups are calling “grossly excessive” and impeding upon the fundamental right of access to government records. Knoxnews has the story.

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Juvenile Offender Program May Lose Funding, Close

The REAL program (Reaching Excellence As Leaders), which helps keep juvenile offenders from returning to the system, is in danger of closing when a grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth expires June 30. Over the past three years, the program has helped more than 300 young people, with 85 percent not reoffending after graduation. The Justice Policy Institute listed Tennessee as one of the top five states in the nation for reducing juvenile confinement. WKRN has the story.

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Support Building for Blount Youth Court

Members of the Leadership Blount Class of 2013 are creating a youth court program in the county as their class service project. Under the youth court model, nonviolent, first-time offenders who admit guilt are able to avoid court costs and keep offenses off their records by submitting to peer sentencing. Class members, including Knoxville attorney Lynn Peterson with Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, who is spearheading the project, hope it will be up and running by the start of the next school year. Blount County Juvenile Judge Terry Denton has signed off on the program and an editorial in the Daily Times calls on county residents to “jump at this opportunity” to “steer wayward young people back on path before compiling a record of misbehavior that follows them into adulthood.”

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DCS Found Liable for Shooting Deaths, Injuries

The state Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has been found liable in the deaths of a teenager and her foster father as well as for injuries to the girl’s foster mother after the biological father went on a shooting rampage. In a ruling that was unsealed last week, a judge ordered DCS to pay $875,000 after the agency was found to have overlooked a prior domestic violence charge against the father and notes in a report that he “acts like a pedophile.” The DCS caseworker also admitted backdating her signature to a date prior to the shooting on the paperwork placing the girl with the foster parents. She also was found to have checked “no” on the form as to whether there was serious physical harm to the child despite evidence to the contrary. Read more in NWTNTODAY.

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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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DCS Revises Child Death Rates Upward

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has revised its child death statistics upward. Since January, it has reported that 73 children brought to its attention died in 2012, but it now says the correct number is 105. For 2011, the number of children who died has increased 47 to 91. Newly appointed DCS Deputy Director Scott Modell said those numbers are now accurate, and blamed previous problems on errors in the agency’s computer system, the fact that data was not kept in one central place, and a lack of agreement on how to define the deaths of certain children. The Tennessean has more.

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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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DCS Commissioner Says Agency Making Improvements

Department of Children’s Services Interim commissioner Jim Henry told a House Government Operations Committee today that improvements have been made since he stepped in about a month ago. Henry said changes include having regional administrators call his personal cell phone when a child is reported dead and immediately notifying lawmakers in that child's district. A death review process has also been established and cases are reviewed monthly. Knoxnews has the story. 

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DCS Reports More on Child Fatalities

The Department of Children’s Services has released new details about the deaths of 25 children in state custody in 2011 and 2012, the Tennessean reports. The 113-page report was released in advance of hearings at the state legislature next week in which the DCS is expected to answer wide-ranging questions about the agency’s ability to serve the state’s children, data problems, rumored difficulties about DCS staff cooperating with law enforcement and unanswered calls at its child abuse hotline. Critics of the agency point out that the report does not answer lawmakers’ questions regarding the number of children who died after being investigated for abuse or neglect but who were not taken from their homes into custody. Interim Commissioner Jim Henry and other DCS officials are expected to answer questions at a separate hearing next week as well.

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Memphis Law Symposium to Focus on Trafficking

The University of Memphis Law Review’s annual symposium will be held March 22. The full-day event will look at the issue of human trafficking in the court system from an international, national, statewide and local perspective. Tennessee recently passed some of the strongest anti-trafficking laws in the country, which means these cases likely will arise more frequently in state courts. The symposium will feature speakers from state and local law enforcement, federal agencies and nonprofit organizations. Learn more or register online.

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