A COVID-19 outbreak at a Nashville facility that cares for children in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services infected 28 children and 15 staff members, according to data provided by the child welfare agency.
The boys are among 197 children and 158 staff members in 26 privately-run residential facilities for kids in DCS custody across Tennessee that have contracted the virus since March.
The vast majority of the 8,600 kids in DCS custody live in individual foster homes. The round-the-clock-care institutions with COVID outbreaks provide treatment to children who have been abused, neglected or have been found delinquent and ordered into DCS custody by a juvenile court judge.
Natalie Kitchens, a nurse at Standing Tall Music City, declined to answer specific questions about how the facility has responded to youth or staff who tested positive or how many kids are currently residing at the site, saying the agency follows all DCS guidelines. Seventeen kids and 13 staff members have recovered from the virus at the center, according to DCS.
“We’ve done really well,” Kitchens said.
But the number of children and staff infected continues to climb across facilities that house youth in DCS custody.
On July 3, there were 185 youth and 106 staff who had tested positive at 12 residential facilities that house kids in DCS custody.
By July 31, COVID-19 cases appeared in 26 facilities that privately contract with DCS to provide kids care.
In addition, 17 kids and 18 staff members in county-run juvenile detention facilities have tested positive for the virus, including 10 children and seven staff members at the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center, according to DCS data.
Across the country, 1,520 youth and 1,718 staff have tested positive at juvenile facilities, according to data compiled by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for de-incarceration of adults and children.
The Sentencing Project has urged states to release as many children as possible from the juvenile justice system “to bend the curve of infections.”
Jennifer Donnals, spokesperson for DCS, said the agency has worked since before the pandemic to “make concerted efforts to safely and timely achieve permanency for all children in state custody.”
“While this effort did not start because of COVID-19, we have continued its focus through the pandemic, resulting in a reduction in the number of children in custody, from both foster homes and in residential treatment facilities,” she said.
The number of children in state custody has dropped from 9,186 in October 2019 to 8,685 as of August 4, 2020, Donnals said.
Other facilities that contract with DCS to house youth that have had COVID-19 outbreaks include:
Hermitage Hall, where 69 children and 24 staff tested positive for COVID-19. The downtown Nashville facility offers residential treatment to boys and girls ages 8 to 17.
Center for Success and Independence, where 51 youth and 17 staff have tested positive. The Bartlett, Tenn. residential treatment facility providing mental health, drug and alcohol treatment to youth.
King’s Daughters’ School in Columbia, Tenn., where 20 youth and seven staff members have tested positive. The Columbia, Tenn. boarding school houses kids and young people aged 7 to 22 who have developmental disabilities.