Child Welfare report says TN improved; has work to do

A group that once sued Tennessee over how it treats children in foster care now says the state is near a turning point.

In 2000, the national watchdog group Children’s Rights and a coalition of Tennessee attorneys sued the state saying its child welfare system did more to harm than to help. Now the latest monitoring report praises the Department of Children Services for improvements.

Ira Lustbader led the case, known as Brian A. He says at the time many kids were institutionalized unnecessarily in what amounted to orphanages. Today 90% are placed in foster homes with families. And he says DCS does a better job of keeping siblings together and has improved training for caseworkers.

“It’s within sight for them to be able to meet and achieve all of the reforms that they set out to do in their settlement, so it’s sort of a home stretch over the next year or two.”

Lustbader says the state is still weak in the way it decides whether a child will go to foster parents or to a group home and how it communicates that decision. He says the state also faces a challenge recruiting and retaining foster parents. While the state’s ailing budget could hurt that effort, Lustbader says he’s cautiously optimistic.

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