Dixie calls for Department of Children’s Services investigation

Video showed kids forced to sleep on floor of government office buildings

By: - August 2, 2021 3:32 pm
In grainy still photos cropped from video sent to the Tennessee Lookout by staff at the Tennessee Department of Children's Service, a teen sleeps on the bare floor while another lies on an air mattress with no blanket. (Photo: submitted)

In grainy still photos cropped from video obtained by the Tennessee Lookout, children in state custody sleep on the floor of a state office building. One teen sleeps on the bare floor while another lies on an air mattress with no blanket. The children were in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services (Photo: submitted)

Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville is calling on the chairs of the legislative Government Operations Committee to conduct an investigation into the Department of Children’s Services after the Tennessee Lookout reported kids in state custody are being forced to sleep on the floor of state office buildings.

“Recent reports of children in state custody sleeping on floors in Nashville office buildings, without even basic necessities like blankets, have disturbed me greatly. I’m sure these reports were unsettling to you as well,” Dixie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus wrote in a letter to Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. 

“To hear from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ spokesperson that this is potentially a frequent occurrence is even worse,” he said.

Dixie is asking Roberts and Ragan to call a DCS representative to appear before the Government Operations Committee committee to account for the issue in a letter delivered Monday afternoon. 

DCS Request Letter

The Lookout on Monday published video of seven children in DCS custody sleeping on the floor of the Davy Crockett Tower in July, some without blankets or mattresses and surrounded by cribs, toys, full trash containers and at least one soiled diaper. 

The Tennessean subsequently reported on Monday that a total of 27 children had spent the night in the office building in June and July, while a space that would normally house children taken into custody was closed for renovations. That facility — the Davidson County DCS Resource Linkage Office — reopened Sunday, aided by donations from the Byard Family Legacy Fund, a charity founded by Tennessee Titans player Kevin Byard.

Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the department, told the Lookout last week that it was “not a violation of policy for children to stay in DCS offices during the nighttime hours until an appropriate placement is found.”

“Being unable to find a placement was an ongoing problem before the pandemic,” a longtime caseworker, who requested anonymity out of fear of being fired for drawing attention to children sleeping in office spaces, told the Lookout last week. “It’s gotten much worse. The number of kids sleeping in offices has never been this bad.”

In his letter, Vincent acknowledged that government agencies make mistakes and “nothing works perfectly 100 percent of the time.”

“But this incident represents more than just a mistake,” he said. “It’s a total failure on the part of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. There is simply no excuse.”

 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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