DCS secrecy absolutely intolerable
Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 7:00 pm
By KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, already under intense scrutiny, is withdrawing into a shell of silence that is intolerable for a state government agency.
The agency is refusing to provide case files on 31 Tennessee children who have died this year after coming into contact with DCS. The Tennessean has requested a review of the files multiple times, but DCS has only provided the Nashville newspaper with brief summaries of the cases. That is not enough. DCS must be more transparent in its handling of these cases so Tennessee residents can fully understand the issues involved and be assured the agency is addressing them.
In the first six months of the year, 31 children DCS has been involved with have died. According to the Tennessean, they include 23 babies, four toddlers, one 5-year-old and three teenagers.
The Tennessean asked to review the case files, but DCS has resisted, citing privacy concerns for the children and families involved.
Those privacy concerns pale in comparison to the public’s right to know how DCS operates on behalf of the taxpayers in these life-and-death situations. Children have died; DCS has a responsibility to present an account of the circumstances surrounding those deaths.
The agency has sought refuge in a federal policy its attorney says prevents the agency from releasing the information. However, the Tennessean has reviewed policies in other states that use the same regulation to justify greater openness.
In Arkansas, Colorado and Oklahoma, child welfare agencies release or post online detailed information about reviews of fatalities of children they come in contact with. Such openness allows citizens and lawmakers to review how the agencies operate and push for reforms when necessary.
Tennessee can and must do likewise. The public has a right — a duty — to review the actions of the state in the death of a child. Only by reviewing DCS’s performance can residents know if reforms are needed. …
Gov. Bill Haslam needs to force DCS to open its records so state residents can evaluate whether DCS is effective in its vital mission — ensuring the safety and welfare of thousands of Tennessee’ children. Published in The WCP 12.13.12