The two men Gov. Bill Haslam appointed earlier this month to tackle problems at the Department of Children's Services said Thursday that they are moving swiftly but deliberately toward solutions.
the agency remains unable to generate an accurate accounting of the
number of children who have died under its care in the past three years,
interim Commissioner Jim Henry said in an interview.
"I know that I know how many have died since I've been here, since I've put my attention to it," Henry said. "One."
That death involved an infant, who died in a hospital shortly after DCS took custody, he said.
met with Tennessean reporters Thursday, along with Larry Martin, a
longtime Haslam aide appointed to examine problems at the agency by the
governor. That appointment was made after errors in the agency's accounting of child deaths emerged - errors Haslam said at the time were "not acceptable."
a week of Martin's appointment, former Commissioner Kate O'Day stepped
down, and Henry took over. Henry also remains commissioner of the
Department of Developmental Disabilities.
More than 200 Tennessee
children lost their lives or nearly died since 2009 after having some
contact with the agency, but the exact number is unknown.
revised the total number of child deaths at least four times since then,
conceding that previous accounts were inaccurate. The agency also has
declined to release updated numbers pending a review of its systems.
Henry stressed that the $27 million, glitch-ridden computer system used
by the agency to track children appears to be improving and said he had
confidence in the staff making fixes.
In their interview, both men conceded a "steep learning curve" and
said that they had spent recent days speaking to as many experts as
possible, including juvenile court judges, nonprofit groups, DCS staff
Henry said the department will need cooperation from the outside groups, as well as lawmakers, to make any progress.
coordinates with many nonprofit groups and private care providers, and
the department budget must go through the governor and legislature -
including any extra help to fix its beleaguered computer system, known
"If we need extra help with TFACTS, to move it quicker,
I think those resources are going to be there," Henry said at one
point, looking to Martin. "Right, Larry?"
Martin said he believed they would.
'Shine a light'
Henry and Martin said they were working to restore the public's faith
in the agency, which is supposed to protect children from abuse or
"We're going to shine a light," Martin said. "We're going
to deal with whatever those problems are. That will go a long way to
improving the credibility of the department and our relationship with
providers, our relationship with juvenile justice, our relationship with
child advocacy groups out there."
O'Day had been criticized for
being unwilling to meet with those groups, in some cases for most of the
two years she spent in office.
"We don't need to go down a route
where we make the decisions in a vacuum," Martin said. "This, again, is
too important for us not to build consensus and get support from all the
partners that are out there."