NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services responded to a scathing audit that found the department failing in several aspects, the most damning arguably being the lack of investigation of sexual abuse. 

“We did remove those personnel, they’ve been reassigned,” DCS Commissioner Margie Quin said. “We are going to replace that with one coordinator and six personnel, so we’re going to plus up that unit.”

Wednesday morning, DCS appeared before the Government Operations Joint Subcommittee on Education, Health, and General Welfare for a hearing on its response.

Another serious issue DCS is facing is its turnover of new staff.

“Our review of entry-level case managers for calendar year 2021 showed that 97% left DCS within their first year of employment,” Comptroller Legislative Audit Manager Lindsey Stadterman said.

To combat that, Quin says the department will cap each new case manager at 10 cases at a time.

“We intend to immediately create new policy for new hires that cap caseloads at their first year at 10,” she said.

For that to happen, DCS will almost certainly have to either hire more case managers or find another solution. Quin’s short-term idea is to privatize some case management – though she was adamant that it would be a public-private partnership, not a solely private endeavor.

“They (private companies) would come in and take some of the cases and do private case management, alongside our case managers,” Quin said.

Currently, the law says DCS caseworkers can’t work more than an average of 20 cases at a time. But what if the number of children in DCS custody increases dramatically at one time?

“Does the legislature give us more people?” Quin asked lawmakers.

“I would say that it’s incumbent on the legislature to respond then, to either change those statutorily – the caps – or to fund the ones that were needed,” Sen. Page Walley (R-Savannah).

Legislative intervention isn’t a new idea. Last year, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) sponsored a bill requiring DCS to have enough workers for a 12-case maximum for each. She said a party-line vote killed it.

“I cannot tell you how I was fuming inside when they were talking about capping caseloads, how this would solve a problem,” Johnson said.

Another way to relieve some of the burden on caseworkers would be to increase salary, and thus, potentially increase retention. Quin’s request during Gov. Bill Lee’s budget hearings included money to raise the minimum starting salary for case managers to nearly $44,000.

Still though, even that number raised questions.

“How do you expect to keep good employees, especially in Davidson County, when you can’t afford to live on basically $44,000 a year?” Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) asked.

“$43,000, I agree with you, is not enough,” Quin responded. “That is not the target that I am shooting for any of our case managers – not just Davidson County but anywhere in the state.”

What that target is wasn’t disclosed.

“(Dept. of Human Resources) Commissioner (Juan) Williams will be waiting for me in the tall grass if I tell you what that salary is,” Quin said. “But I’m very hopeful that that is being worked on as we speak.”