Knoxville foster parents frustrated after DCS advocates let go

Knoxville foster parents frustrated after DCS advocates let go

Posted:
Foster parents in Knoxville have concerns after learning their DCS advocates have been let go. The Tennessee Community Service Association is contracted by DCS to provide advocates for foster parents. Foster parents in Knoxville have concerns after learning their DCS advocates have been let go. The Tennessee Community Service Association is contracted by DCS to provide advocates for foster parents.
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Foster parents in Knoxville have concerns after learning their DCS advocates have been let go. The Tennessee Community Service Association is contracted by DCS to provide advocates for foster parents.

They let go half a dozen of these advocate volunteers Tuesday because of a conflict of interest.

Beth Blanchard has fostered close to 30 children, adopting five of them, and she knows just how vital an advocate is during the process.

“Our advocates are always there with us. They know our families they know our kids. They are there for the best interest. They’re suddenly gone,” said Blanchard.

The big concern is how they were let go.

“That’s been the hardest part to deal with. We received no notification. We were working on some cases yesterday, several advocates had our phones turned off, went to check out emails, couldn’t access email,” explained Robert Rutherford, one of the advocates let go.

Rutherford served close to 500 homes as the Knox region advocate, assisting foster parents through the often complicated policies and procedures of DCS.

Blanchard was supposed to have a meeting with Rutherford Wednesday, but instead feels like they were left in the dark.

“The advocates had no warning; the foster parents had no warning,” she said.

It all stems from a new support organization for foster parents formed by Rutherford and several other advocates. The group is called Tennessee Association of Resource Parents (TARP) and is meant to support parents across the state.

However, TNCSA works with Tennessee Foster and Adoptive Care Association and says advocates working for the new group are violating a conflict of interest clause. 

TNCSA executive director Tom McWherter says these advocate volunteers were notified when they signed on board of the conflict of interest clause.

McWherter says they hoped the group would not break away and form a new organization but that’s not what happened and that is why the advocates were let go.

The concern for parents like Blachard is the TNCSA has known since February about the plan for the new group. However, they didn’t inform parents their advocates could be fired.

“A transition would have been okay, that’s not what this is,” said Blanchard.

TNCSA says there should not be an interruption of services. They are working to replace the fired advocates and in the meantime have reassigned cases. McWherter does admit at this time they have not sent out communication to all foster parents of the situation.

6 News obtained an email from the DCS Director of Foster Care and Adoption, John Johnson, from a parent requesting information about the situation. It reads in part:

“I want to ensure you that there will not be any interruption of support to families and that the program remains committed to serving all resource parents across our state. DCS,TNCSA, & TFACA value resource parents and the importance of assisting with well qualified and professional... advocates. To that end, foster parents are not left without any help or advocacy. In fact, another person has been identified to provide support in your area. The advocates who are now available to you are very competent, well trained, and familiar with the system and I expect each will be an important resource when called upon.

"In the interim time, please contact Miss Jennifer McGee (423/280-5758), the Advocacy Program Director with the Tennessee Community Service Agency or her Supervisor Miss Cheryl Gillenwater (865/314-9422) for assistance. Sometimes change is in the best interest of all concerned and “we” are laser focused on insuring high quality advocate support for resource parents. I am confident that this will be a small "bump in the road", and I appreciate your commitment to our children and families.“

Blanchard says as parents, they deserve a better explanation.

“This isn’t a bump in the road,” said Blanchard. “This isn’t a transition; this is hitting a brick wall and starting from square one.”

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