Tennessee DCS chief reviewing how severe child abuse cases are handled

Associated Press • Oct 5, 2012 at 10:04 AM

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Department of Children's Services commissioner says she is reviewing how severe child abuse cases are being handled.

The announcement by Commissioner Kate O'Day came after complaints that the department isn't properly intervening in cases where children might be at risk.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Un4eBP ) reported O'Day said at a meeting Thursday the department will also work with the statewide network of Child Advocacy Centers. The aim is for the agency to be alerted if severely abuse children are being overlooked by the state.

"It will give us more data to see if we have systemic issues or data issues or other issues," O'Day said.

The cooperation will provide a way for child welfare officials, district attorneys and others to get the agency's attention in cases where serious abuse is suspected.

State Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, organized the meeting which was attended by Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe, his chief investigator, a detective and District Attorney Dan Alsobrooks. Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess was also there.

"I have a sworn duty to enforce" the laws, Bledsoe said. "We need to work together to ensure the safety of the children in our state."

It was a letter from Bledsoe to Summerville that prompted the meeting. Summerville sits on the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Bonnie Beneke, executive director of the Tennessee Children's Advocacy Centers, said the meeting was a satisfactory first step to begin ongoing conversations about preventing further abuse in serious cases.

"Certainly, the department was more willing and more prone to hear some of these issues," she said.

Summerville said child advocates had brought the department six urgent cases, none of which had been flagged as severe abuse. They included a 4-year-old with a blood-alcohol level that would be considered intoxicated in an adult and a case of sex abuse.

After the meeting, O'Day told the newspaper that, of the six instances advocated presented, is appeared procedure was followed in five of them.

"There was just one situation that raised a question in the way it was classified," she said.

O'Day said she will review how calls are received at the department central intake call center, noting how the cases get categorized.

Summerville said he anticipates another meeting, perhaps next week.

Mark Cate, Gov. Bill Haslam's chief of staff, also plans to attend.

"Obviously the governor takes this very seriously," Cate said.


Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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