Tennessee Department of Children’s Services calls for budget bump as kids’ needs rise

By: - November 16, 2023 5:01 am
Margie Quin, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, prepares for a budget hearing on Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Margie Quin, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, prepares for a budget hearing on Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

For the second consecutive year, leaders of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services are asking for a significant budget increase to keep up with the housing, mental and physical health needs of children taken into state custody after allegations of abuse or neglect.

In total, DCS is seeking to increase its annual budget next year by nearly $182 million, funds DCS chief Margie Quin said would be used to make bigger payments to foster parents, adoptive parents and residential treatment providers.

Department officials meeting with Gov. Bill Lee in a public budget hearing on Wednesday noted that the needs of kids coming into the state’s child welfare system continue to increase.

There has been a 19% increase in the number of kids needing specialized inpatient care between the 2022 and 2023 fiscal year, and kids admitted to inpatient treatment centers are staying, on average, 60 days longer, DCS officials said.

Meanwhile, there are fewer foster homes and those that still exist often cannot care for kids with high level of psychiatric or healthcare needs. The number of foster care placements has dropped 13%.

“The acuity of children in DCS custody today continues to increase, resulting in the need for more costly and more specialized treatment services,” said Frank Mix, executive director of Network Development/Provider Relations for DCS.

“Kids don’t present the way they did 30 years ago,” he said.

Nix also acknowledged that some kids are lingering in custody due to a lack of qualified staff.

“It’s partially due to staffing issues,” he said. “Those impact the quality of casework that expedite children through custody.”

If approved, the budget increase would represent another large infusion of funding to the beleaguered agency, which has been under scrutiny in recent years for failing to adequately take care of kids. 

In 2022, lawmakers approved a $27 million budget increase for the agency, whose current total budget of $1.2 billion includes funding from the federal government.

In early 2023, as media reports and a Comptroller’s audit revealed many children were forced to sleep inside state government office buildings  while others suffered abuse inside institutions that contract with DCS, lawmakers approved a special emergency appropriation of $27 million to increase bed capacity. A few months later, lawmakers approved a $181 million increase in the agency’s annual budget.

DCS Budget Presentation 2024-2025


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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.