A Great Day in Court Promises More Success Ahead

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at DCS for their hard, dedicated work over the past year and a half in getting us back on track in the Brian A. consent decree.

Today I was pleased to be in the court room of U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell, where attorneys for the department and Children’s Rights described our accelerated progress toward achieving compliance with this long-running case.
This time last year, we came into maintenance on two items, but fell out of maintenance on six. Today we were able to talk about how we achieved compliance on 14 items. We are definitely back on track. It is great to know we’re heading in the right direction.
In general here is where we have been most successful in recent months, in the areas of safety, quality assurance and services to children. The plaintiffs and the Technical Assistance Committee noted our improvement in background checks and expedited approval for kinship resource homes. 
Great effort, everyone. I’m proud of the work you’re doing, and I know that it this will continue to benefit the children in Tennessee. I’m energized by our successes and confident that we can achieve maintenance by the end of 2015. 
I want to encourage everyone’s passion and commitment to this work.
Thank you.

Michael Leach Awarded Champion for Children by CASA


On Wednesday, Tennessee’s Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children celebrated their twenty-five year anniversary and hosted their annual meeting at the Nashville Public Library. CASA is a nonprofit organization established to support the development, growth and continuation of programs, which recruit and train volunteers to serve as advocates representing the best interests of abused and neglected children. The most important goal of Tennessee CASA is to provide a CASA volunteer for every child in Tennessee who needs one by the year 2020.

During the annual meeting, CASA presented the Champion for Children Award and the Light of Hope Award to two individuals that stood out above the rest in their dedication to serving the children of Tennessee.  

The Champion for Children Award goes to an individual that exemplifies the word “champion.” A champion is defined as a person who fights or argues for a cause on behalf of someone else. Our very own DCS Director of Independent Living, Michael Leach, was the recipient of the Champion for Children Award. We could not be more proud of Michael.

As best said by Lynne Farrar, Executive Director of CASA,”Youth in care are not just a number to Michael Leach; he takes the time to listen and find creative solutions to the many challenges facing our youth. He may not be able to solve every problem, but he will work to find the answer. He finds a way to say ‘yes’ to help in some way with every child. His optimism and determination improves the lives of young people. This is why Michael Leach is the champion for children.” Congratulations, Michael!

We also want to congratulate Tawny Spinelli as the recipient of the Light of Hope Award. Tawny serves as the Children’s Cabinet Assistant Director and the Tennessee Young Child Wellness Coordinator.

In this photo, below: Lynne Farrar, TN CASA Executive Director, Tawny Spinelli, Mike Leach and Charlie Davenport, TN CASA Board President.

Happy Adoption Day to Jason and his mother, Darlene. This is a picture of Jason signing his intend to adopt with a crayon. 
Best wishes and special thanks to the staff who worked with this family.

Happy Adoption Day to Jason and his mother, Darlene. This is a picture of Jason signing his intend to adopt with a crayon. 

Best wishes and special thanks to the staff who worked with this family.

Here is the schedule for the Windows Tablet deployment to field staff by region. 
We are looking forward to seeing this technology assist in the fieldwork done by caseworkers across the state.

Here is the schedule for the Windows Tablet deployment to field staff by region. 

We are looking forward to seeing this technology assist in the fieldwork done by caseworkers across the state.


We met this week with Clark Flatt and Paul Summers of the Jason Foundation this week to discuss preventing teen suicide.

The organization, created by Mr. Flatt after the death of his son Jason, has a helpful app called “A Friend Asks,” which has helpful warning signs, questions and resources. The app is available for Android and iPhone.



Brian A. Benchmarks: On the Right Track in 2014

Great news: We have moved 14 items into maintenance in the Brian A. consent decree. That’s 14 more categories in which we have achieved our required performance mandates. 

You can read it here, in this document that has been filed in U.S. District Court. 

A few things to keep in mind as you read:

  • The actual requirements we are responsible for begin on page 7.  
  • If a provision is in maintenance, you will see a space after the paragraph, followed by “MAINTENANCE.”
  • If only part of the provision is in maintenance, you will see “MAINTENANCE” directly following the sentence or sentences that are in maintenance. (It gets confusing.)  We refer to these provisions as being in “partial maintenance,” because only some aspects of the provision have been designated as being in compliance.
  • If you are unsure whether you are looking at the most up-to-date version of the agreement, look at the file date at the very bottom of the page.  The most current agreement is dated 09/02/14.

Thanks for all of the hard work you have done and continue to do.  We are making progress toward exiting this lawsuit and continually improving practice as we do so.  Our current assessment of compliance status is as follows:

In Maintenance: 82

Partial Maintenance: 5

Not in Maintenance: 49

Total Provisions: 136 

— Britany J. Binkowski, Assistant to the Commissioner for Child Welfare Reform


Knox COA: Another Home Run


I was proud to hear the excellent feedback of the Knox County office Wednesday. April Anderson led her team as they showed a trio of reviewers through the entirety of the work that takes place in the Knox County region. According to the reviewers, April and her team “made this visit easy in terms of organization; their level of cooperation was very good.” Here are some comments from the reviewers at the exit interview that made Knox County’s regional visit noteworthy:  

Staff & CQI: “When you walk into this building, there is an energy out there from the group of staff. The teams huddle and talk about what’s going on and their biggest cases this week. They begin to go back and forth in terms of who can help whom. When someone is going to one of the YDCs or one of the institutions, they ask ‘do you want me to check on one of your kids that are there?’ This isn’t something April has told them to do…it’s just something they do. It’s part of what they do. When you walk around, look at the stuff that’s up on the walls and go look at the board where they put up issues. You can’t script this stuff. You can’t make it up. It’s CQI at its best. The meeting I had with the CQI representatives was really good… it was more than really good. There is just a great group of staff, supervisors, and administrators. Like I have continued to say in the other regions, CQI is an action verb. ”

Relationships: The community recognizes the exacerbated load of cases. The community did not say “YOU have a problem, but WE have a problem.” The community owns this problem as much as you do. The fact that they are saying “We” is a credit to how much this region is out in the community and the relationships they built. “This is what your own peers are saying about you:

They are passionate about what they do.
We rely on them, and they respond.
We really care about our kids.
You just never give up.
We really team well together.
This is a tight-knit group. We know each other’s strengths, and we use them.
The minute a child comes into care, we start working to get that child back home, or if that’s not possible, a permanent home.
This team is so awesome, and there is strong teaming within our teams. 

This is what your community is saying:

Considering the resources available, it’s incredible how they keep up with all the kids.
They were willing to accommodate us.
The worker always made time to contact me.
Staff is so great. They really genuinely care about your family.
They are eager to help you. They’ve gotten me everything I’ve ever needed.
They are very good at reaching out to providers.
I was pleased with the communication with DCS, and they engage; they bring in the community

A keystone of this organization is relationships. The relationships this organization has with the community and each other is very strong and noteworthy.

Juvenile Justice: “I asked Misty ‘What’s going on here that there are only two Juvenile Justice workers on the caseload sheet, when in other places we’ve had two or three teams of Juvenile Justice workers?’ It’s because this county stands on their head to not send you those kids. They only send you those kids when they’ve been through every single thing that they’ve tried to do. The most phenomenal part of that is on both ends of the case. The commitment of the judges not giving you every case is pretty incredible. The exit program that they have here that works with aftercare with the kids that are coming out of the YDCs is incredible.”

Foster Care: “Kudos to this department! Eighty-three percent of their siblings stay together in a foster home. I couldn’t believe that number because that is really tremendous! And they are talking about some really large groups… four, five and six…that they actually found a home that was willing to take them. As a matter of fact, the community is so great that they are actually building an addendum to one of the foster parent’s homes, so they can take the additional kids in that sibling group that aren’t right now with that group. I’ve never heard of that in my life.”

Adoption: “You have this manual that I think is really fantastic; it’s called Adoption Best Practices. There is some really great stuff in this manual. There is a lot of policy, but there are some ‘how-to’s.’ This agency is phenomenal in adoptions; they did 198 adoptions last year. That is the highest adoptions in the state, and they are on track to exceed that this year.”


Communication, Collaboration and Consistency after the CPS Restructure

Over the past two weeks, CPS and other regional staff have had the opportunity to meet with central office representatives in 6 of the 12 regions; Upper Cumberland, Mid-Cumberland, Davidson, Knox, Smoky and East. 

Regional staff met with Deputy Commissioners Bonnie Hommrich, Scott Modell and Michael Cull, and Executive Directors Carla Aaron and Sandra Wilson to recap the activities from the past year related to the CPS restructure. 

These meetings were also opportunities for staff to hear about upgraded positions, technology updates, after hours coverage and to ask questions and share opportunities for improvement. The main message for the year ahead was captured using three “C’s” – Communication, Collaboration, and Consistency in expectations. 

Visits to the remaining six regions will be completed by the end of October. The Deputy Commissioners have committed to meet with regional staff on a quarterly basis to continue to improve communication, foster teaming and strengthen relationships across CPS.


Please answer this survey on trauma-informed care

From John Johnson, director of Foster Care and Adoption Services for DCS:

Please answer this survey which seeks to assess the extent to which systems serving children and youth in custody are trauma-informed and the specific areas of need for creating a more trauma-informed system. 

We are seeking to get any individuals who work with these youth to complete the survey and would very much appreciate your help. Please click on this link.

For more information on this, read this