NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Thirty-five days into her new role as the head of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Margie Quin says children in state care are sleeping on office floors and her staff is “traumatized.”
“One hundred percent of our beds in our staff secure or hardware secure facilities are full,” Quin told a group of state lawmakers Wednesday. “Because of the limitation of beds, there are about 11 to 15 juvenile justice youth in local DCS offices waiting for appropriate placements.”
She said the children sleeping in offices are “real high-needs children” and sometimes youth who have committed a felony, which leads to staff and kids feeling unsettled.
“And the individuals in the DCS office, are they trained to care for these youth?” asked Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “No, sir,” Quin replied.
Quin promised lawmakers she is digging for answers and solutions to the problems plaguing DCS, but mental health professionals worry a lot of the damage has already been done.
“I’m watching these kids suffer. I’m watching them have behavioral meltdowns, and they are not able to go school and function, it is impacting every facet of their lives,” said Leigh Anne Goldstine, a therapist who often works with children in DCS custody and foster families. “We are in a mess.”
Goldstine said when children are taken out of their homes and moved into DCS care they are often promised a better life than what they came from, and when they are still forced to stay in “survival mode,” their development and ability to trust and form relationships is impacted.
“They are being pulled from a home where they likely did not have a bed, right? They are sleeping on the couch or sleeping on the floor and people are making promises to them that things will be better and they are still sleeping on the floor,” she said. “Traumatic experience on top of trauma they have already suffered.”
Goldstine says she has sympathy for the DCS workers with large caseloads.
“The job is just an untenable job, there is no way they can do it,” she said.
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Goldstine suggests hiring more well-trained staff to reduce workloads and help give children consistent figures in their lives. She also says more people at DCS need to be trained in how kids form bonds and relationships.