A Reformed Tennessee Foster Care System To Exit Lawsuit After 'Systemic Reform'

Apr 4, 2017

Imagine having someone watch your every move for 16 years. And when you mess up, the watchdog tells a federal court judge and gives interviews to reporters about whatever happened.

Picture those same overseers now saying they are proud of you. That’s what New York-based Children’s Rights, a child welfare watchdog group, is saying about Tennessee and its Department of Children's Services.

Tennessee’s foster care system has reached what Children's Rights describes as a “massive milestone” of “top to bottom” reform. To reach this moment has taken 16 years of court oversight, which followed a class-action lawsuit named after a little boy in Shelby County, known as Brian A., who became the namesake of the case.

The complaint at the time was that vulnerable children were being kept in large shelters, which were compared to long-ago orphanages. DCS has been under court order to overhaul the foster care system ever since. On Tuesday, Children's Rights announced that DCS has met and sustained more than 140 goals.

Positive changes include:

  • making sure at least 85 percent of foster children stay in family homes, instead of institutions
  • that 95 percent of child abuse investigators have more manageable caseloads
  • that 97 percent of children who are likely to be reunited with their parents have regular visits with them

The case will be ready to close in late May. The final phase will require DCS to pay another outside group to keep tabs for 18 months.