Lord knows I love to complain about The Tennessean as much, if not more, than the next person. But I'd just like to reiterate how important it is that they are fighting hold the Tennessee Department of Children's Services accountable. DCS admits to lying by omission for years and still claims that we should trust them when they say everything is as peachy-keen as it could be at the department, considering how difficult their jobs are.
And now DCS is refusing to let The Tennessean evaluate the files of dead children who had contact with DCS so that tax payers can rest assured that everything that could have been done for those children was done. Their reasoning?
“The disclosure process for fatalities and near fatalities requires sensitivity and balance,” DCS General Counsel Douglas Dimond wrote in response to the newspaper’s request. “A child and family’s right to privacy must be balanced against the public’s right to know.”
It's mighty convenient that DCS gets to decide that files which might reflect poorly on DCS can't be released to The Tennessean, though, isn't it? That we have to take DCS' word that the child and family want to exercise this right to privacy and aren't at all interested in having the media look into the circumstances surrounding the child's death? Very, very convenient.
And, it turns out, untrue.
Dimond, the DCS attorney, cited federal policy and said agencies that receive federal funding to prevent child abuse are not authorized to release records involving children — even if they’re dead.
But a review of other states shows multiple examples of officials routinely granting public access to case files and detailed timelines of case manager calls, visits and investigations relating to child deaths.
And that's not the only fibbing DCS is doing. More importantly, DCS claims it doesn't need the media to look over its shoulders because it has multiple layers of independent oversight.
DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said last week that such oversight includes a Child Protective Investigative Team that operates in each county and investigates allegations of child sex abuse and severe child abuse. The team includes law enforcement, DCS and child welfare officials who evaluate whether a case can be prosecuted.
But Brian Holmgren, a Davidson County assistant district attorney who is on Nashville’s Child Protective Investigative Team, said the group does not function as an independent assessor of the work of DCS.
He said its focus is on determining whether a child was a victim of abuse or neglect and whether there is enough evidence to prosecute the alleged perpetrator.
In addition, Holmgren said, the team relies solely on the information DCS presents to it and does not have access to a child’s complete DCS file.
Holmgren said the team’s findings are not public.
So, just to be clear, the people DCS says are independently overseeing them don't consider themselves to be independently overseeing DCS, and in fact say they aren't given enough information by DCS to fill that role even if they wanted to, and that their findings aren't public, so we just have to take DCS's word that the overseeing non-overseers or non-overseeing overseers — whatever they are — are pleased with what they're not actually evaluating.
This is amazing. Both that DCS would try to sell this polished turd to The Tennessean, and that the very people and organizations who have to work with DCS are saying, "Yep, that's a pile of shit they just handed you, The Tennessean." It seems that it's become so obvious DCS is just making stuff up that people have just stopped pretending otherwise.
But the thing I find most amazing, and perhaps most frightening, is that the governor is still defending DCS.
A spokesman for Haslam said: “The policy has been reviewed, and the governor and the Attorney General’s Office are comfortable with DCS’ position.”
The Tennessean's coverage of this problem has been extraordinary. It's demonstrated repeatedly that DCS' relationship to the truth leaves a lot to be desired, and that it's impossible to know how this culture of lying and ass-covering is contributing to child deaths.
And, when the chips are down — when the public needs to know with absolute certainty that the government is functioning as well as an institution created and run by people can — the governor is fine with just telling the public to trust DCS.
Whether the governor gets it or not, this is a major crisis.
And, if I were one of the higher-ups at DCS, I'd be wondering how long I could hide behind someone else's right to privacy. At some point, some parent is going to wonder if more couldn't have been done to save his or her kid, and he or she's going to help the media find out.