Children in state custody compelled to sleep on flooring in state workplace constructing – Tennessee Lookout

A teenage girl in a pink hoodie and jeans slept restlessly in a downtown Nashville office with no pillow, sheet, blanket, mattress, or pad to separate her from the carpeting.

Another teenager was also sleeping right on the floor, huddled under a single blanket. A few yards away, two elementary school children slept from head to toe on a single double mattress. Three other teenagers also slept in the room, where piles of children’s clothes, a crib, and toys lined the walls, along with trash and at least one crumpled dirty diaper.

A total of seven children in the care of the Department of Children’s Services of Tennessee were forced to sleep in offices in the Davy Crockett Tower in downtown Nashville on July 16 – a Friday night – in a case that was videotaped and taken from the Tennessee lookout.

Children are typically detained for their safety and well-being after DCS investigates allegations of abuse or neglect. Children come into custody and experience trauma from abuse, trauma from being abducted from familiar surroundings, and often a feeling of powerlessness and fear for their future.

Getting children to sleep with strangers in an office without essential amenities is a government failure to carry out their most basic duties, according to a longtime DCS case officer, fearful of the department’s treatment of children to make anonymity requests lead to burning.

“Not finding a job was an ongoing problem prior to the pandemic,” said the case officer. “It’s gotten a lot worse. The number of children sleeping in offices has never been so bad. “

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The case officer said DCS had failed to provide adequate support to detained children – foster parents or temporary and more appropriate rooms – as the pandemic affected the continued willingness of foster parents to take in children. If kids have to stay in offices, clerks also need to stay with them to find their own childcare arrangements and add to the burden of an already stressful job, the clerk said.

Jennifer Donnals, a department spokeswoman, said Friday that “it is not a violation of policy for children to stay in DCS offices during night hours until suitable accommodation is found.” In these cases, “committed employees create a safe environment until a suitable position is found,” she said.

“The reality is that children often come to care late at night and it can take several hours to find a suitable place in nursing homes or treatment facilities, especially when working with groups of siblings or adolescents. . . We have accommodations in our offices to provide comfort for children in these temporary situations, including blankets, cribs and air mattresses, groceries, toys and other supplies. “

Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, said it was “not a violation of policy for children to stay in DCS offices during night hours until suitable accommodation is found,” but did not address it, how often children are taken into custody sleeping in state offices.

In her response, Donnals did not address other questions, including the frequency with which detained children sleep in government offices.

A room for children in Nashville awaiting foster care was closed for renovation in July, Donnals said. The DCS Resource Linkage Office in Davidson County reopened Sunday, supported by donations from the Byard Family Legacy Fund, a charity founded by Tennessee Titans player Kevin Byard.

During the renovation, “children were brought into Davy Crockett’s office more frequently,” said Donnals.

The department didn’t answer questions about whether DCS chief Jennifer Nichols and other agency leaders knew that children sleep in government office buildings.

And Donnals did not address the circumstances of the girl in the pink hoodie seen in the video, who slept right on the floor and who lacked the comfort items she described, including a blanket, cot or air mattress, which are shown in screenshots that were last shared with the department week.

Around 9,000 children are permanently in state care who need a foster family, a place in an inpatient treatment facility or accommodation with family members or friends.

The agency, like its counterparts in other states, has often had a bumpy history of adequate care for children. In 2000, the state entered into custody 17-year court-ordered oversight of the treatment of children detained for “systemic failures to protect and provide statutory services to the most vulnerable children of Tennessee.” were taken.

The lawsuit was triggered by children who were housed in unsuitable rooms after their arrest. Judicial oversight ended in 2017.

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