A judge recently found the state Department of Children's Services
liable for failing to follow policies that could have prevented a fatal
shooting in 2009. Now, a surviving victim and her attorney want the
agency to revise policies to protect other families.
Last week, a judge's ruling against DCS became public for the first time,
revealing an order for the state to pay $875,000 for the injuries of
Susan Randolph and for the fatal shooting of her husband, Todd, and
their teenage neighbor Stevie Noelle Milburn in the summer of 2009.
girl's father, Chris Milburn, ambushed the Randolphs three days after
they agreed to take her in temporarily while DCS investigated
allegations of violent physical and sexual abuse against Milburn, who
later killed himself.
State Claims Commissioner Nancy
Miller-Herron found a DCS caseworker failed to follow policies that
govern what is known as an "immediate protection agreement." Caseworkers
use immediate protection agreements to temporarily separate child
victims from alleged abusers, a method that stops short of bringing the
child into foster care.
But survivor Susan Randolph and her
attorney Brandon Bass say following those policies may not have been
good enough, because they were - and remain - vague and scattered.
wants policies changed to require caseworkers to tell potential
caretakers more about the abuse investigations and potential threats
from the abuser.
Susan Randolph said her family would not have
accepted the girl if they had known their role was to protect her from
Chris Milburn. And when his behavior became alarming, the Randolphs had
only one cellphone number to call. The caseworker never picked up.
"In extreme situations like this, there needs to be a clear delineation of what has to happen beforehand," Bass said.
the shooting, DCS has not changed policies to address issues raised at
trial - despite making other revisions to the immediate protection
policies in 2010 and 2011.
"When you have a tragedy like this
occur, it's appropriate to look back at it, not just as an isolated
incident, but how it can be prevented with appropriate policies," Bass
Responding Tuesday to Tennessean policy questions, DCS
spokeswoman Molly Sudderth first said they were not under review. But
after The Tennessean pressed for an interview with DCS interim
Commissioner Jim Henry, Sudderth later wrote via email that Henry was
asking staff to examine all immediate protection agreement policies.
department doesn't keep a statewide count of such agreements, but
Sudderth said it uses them in dozens of cases statewide each month.
and Randolph said policy improvements could be simple, such as
collecting all relevant immediate protection agreement policies in one
place, creating a clear list of caseworker requirements and demanding
that they document actions in the case file.
Randolph said little
things could have made a difference, such as receiving a handout with
DCS phone numbers, or requiring caseworker voice mail messages to
include the number for the on-call weekend worker.
"We did not
want to stir the pot unnecessarily - complicating the situation for a
family already in crisis," Randolph said. "Calling the police or a
social worker at home after hours seemed to be such an extreme response
when we initially just wanted to clarify some things and ask some
Sudderth said one of Bass' suggestions will be
considered and that Henry is considering a new approach to policymaking
to include citizen input.
Attorneys Dean Dedmon and Lewis
Jenkins, who represented the teen's biological mother, Jessica Readen,
said the problem was the caseworker's failure to follow what policies
"Had a great deal of those policies and procedures been
remotely followed in this case, this never would have been allowed to
happen," Dedmon said.
Instead, the caseworker made bad decisions
late on a Friday afternoon to place the child victim two doors down from
the abuser, Dedmon said.
"Had they just gone and read the basic
stuff and used some common sense," Dedmon said, "this never would have
happened this way."