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Tennessee Department of Children’s Services holds weekend “surge” to address caseloads


Tennessee Department of Children’s Services holds weekend “surge” to address caseloads

Jun 05, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Anita Wadhwani
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services holds weekend “surge” to address caseloads
Margi Quin, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, photographed on June 2, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Nearly three dozen child welfare workers from across the state crowded into a Nashville conference room on Friday, preparing for an intensive weekend ahead. 

Their goal: visit up to 200 families who have been reported to the Department of Children’s Services on suspicions of child abuse or neglect, interview parents and kids, and bring to a close any cases in which there are no longer fears about a child’s safety.

The three-day “surge” event in Nashville is among a series of new strategies DCS is deploying to address extraordinary high caseloads that have led to social workers leaving in droves over the past year — and months of negative media coverage over kids sleeping on office building floors or in hospital beds because there is no other place to put them.

At its worst, DCS caseworkers in Nashville were each responsible for nearly 100 cases at a time — a crushing amount of work for state employees that also raised questions about the department’s ability to make sure Tennessee kids were safe. 

While those caseloads have dropped by a third in recent months, the goal is to drop them by another third, Margie Quin, the DCS commissioner brought on board by Gov. Bill Lee in September, told reporters Friday.

“This is one of the toughest jobs at DCS,” Quin said of child protective services investigations. Closing cases that no longer need DCS intervention means “we can spend more and more time doing those face to face visits and spending that quality time with our kids and with our families.”

The event — the sixth in Davidson County since last Fall — brings social workers and department supervisors to Nashville to make home visits to families who may be in the final stages of a DCS investigation. The department invited reporters to the initial in-office preparations for caseworkers, but declined to allow media to accompany them on home visits, citing confidentiality rules.

Those workers spent the weekend visiting homes across the city to visit parents and kids, calling in the results of those interviews to staff at DCS headquarters and making determinations about whether a family should or should not be taken out from under DCS supervision. Workers were able to close 132 cases by weekend’s end, according to Alex Denis, a spokesperson.

The logistics of ending DCS involvement with a family can be time-consuming, including not just one last home visit but seven to nine hours entering notes, images and files into the department’s cumbersome computer system, which the department hopes to replace in the next year. Taking a team approach to finishing out the work cuts that time in half, Denis said. 

Closing a case also ends a family’s uncertainty.

“The burden of having a DCS case open is, I’m sure, nerve wracking; it’s stressful,” Quin said. “Having the case close sooner rather than later would certainly be a relief, but I also hope that working with DCS and having additional services would be a help to a family.”