A little over two dozen children in state custody spent the night in offices in the Davy Crockett Tower in downtown Nashville this summer while the facility where they normally sleep underwent renovations.
A room for children in Nashville awaiting foster care was closed for renovations on June 8, said Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The updated Davidson County’s DCS Resource Linkage Office reopened Sunday.
On Monday, Donnals told The Tennessean that it was not a violation of DCS policy to bring children to DCS offices “any time of the day or night.”
“Our definition of overnight is children who are taken into custody before midnight and stay in the office after 4am,” said Donnals.
During the renovation, children were taken to Davy Crockett’s office on 500 James Robertson Parkway, Donnals said, and in some cases spent the night there.
“There are cots, blankets, food and toys,” said DSC Commissioner Jennifer Nichols in an interview. “The whole idea, it should be a short stay.”
In June, 12 children also stayed in the state office building.
15 children stayed there from July 1 to July 26, Donnals said.
She said the department had also taken children to other facilities around the city, including Crosspointe Church in Bellevue, as well as an office next to the newly renovated space.
She did not immediately know how often children stayed there before the renovation.
Supported by donations
Supported by donations from the Byard Family Legacy Fund, a charity founded by Tennessee Titans player Kevin Byard, the state’s updated space reopened on Sunday.
“They ripped out the floors, painted all the walls, renovated the kitchen,” said Donnals
According to a statement from DCS, the facility now has sufficient storage space for donations of clothing, diapers, car seats, toys and other items that are needed for the care of children and young people.
The Byards have pledged to renovate the space for DCS to “truly create an environment that will help reduce trauma and stress for children removed from their homes,” according to the press release.
“We have to get kids somewhere if we remove them from homes immediately, which is why we’re so grateful to partners like Isaiah 117 House, Kevin Byard with the Titans (and more),” Donnals said Monday. “In fact, this morning we broke ground for a new Isaiah 117 home in Rutherford County.”
“An emergency situation”
As of Monday morning, Nichols said there were more than 8,900 children in government custody who needed to be housed.
“It doesn’t matter when they need to be removed, we get them around the clock,” said Nichols of the children who were taken into custody by the state for their safety and well-being after DCS allegations of neglect or neglect investigated the abuse. “When they happen in the evening, from dinner to bed, it’s sometimes difficult to get people to answer the phone and make connections.”
“Sometimes we get to a family member five or six hours away and they say they’re coming but have to pack.”
“It’s really hard to have someone who sometimes picks up five or six children at 9 or 10 or 11 a.m.,” said the Commissioner. “There are emergency situations that unfortunately cannot be helped.”
“We’re not going to ask them to sit in the car; we will ask them to come to their office … where they can have something to eat or drink so they are safe and comfortable while we have a place, home, or family member. “
But Nichols said Davidson County doesn’t have the same number of resources as other counties.
Nichols said her office plans to keep a close eye on situations where children are sleeping at the state office and seek additional outside resources to help.
“We want to keep up with it because it determines what kind of external sources we need,” she told The Tennessean.
Previous nights in the office
This summer isn’t the first time DCS has scrutinized the issue, with concerns about children getting proper care while they sleep in a government office building.
The Tennessee Lookout first reported the new cases of children sleeping in a state office building on Monday. The news agency quoted a video it had received from the children sleeping there on a recent Friday night.
In 2017, the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee found that some children were sleeping in government office buildings and a Bellevue church because DCS was having trouble finding beds for them – a problem that is particularly acute for delinquent children and children with behavioral problems was.
Davidson County’s regional administrator Tiwanna Woods said at the time that no more than 19 teenagers had slept in state office or church as of early March 2017 – and no more than three teenagers in a single night. However, sources who worked closely with DCS that same year said the number of children was higher – up to 15 teenagers spending the night in offices or church, and up to seven in a single night.
The reports came as DCS neared the end of a 14-year federal lawsuit originally filed by child rights attorneys for placing children in shelters or other inappropriate settings in lieu of foster families, group homes, or inpatient treatment centers.
In late 2017, the family of a 14-year-old boy who was killed after escaping a nursing home filed a lawsuit against the head of DCS and three of its employees
Tirell Hill was shot dead in June 2017, a month after disappearing from a foster home in Antioch. The police are still investigating, but there are no arrests.
A federal lawsuit filed in December 2017 alleged child protection officials were unable to find a safe, stable, and suitable place for Tirell to remain in state custody during his eight months.
Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville, Tennessean and reports on the latest news from the south for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
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