When a parent has neglected or abused a child in the past, are there any mechanisms in place to ensure a child born in the future does not endure the same fate?
That's the question 10News tried to answer Friday in response to dozens of comments and questions on social media sites stemming from the shooting death of a six-month-old child Wednesday.
We discovered that a family's history of involvement with DCS, no matter how extensive, does not guarantee that any children born in the future will be monitored by the agency.
Wednesday afternoon emergency personnel responded to a 911 call and transported a six-month-old baby girl to the hospital after she suffered a gunshot wound to the head. According to the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the baby's parents, Angela Major and Kenneth Mason, were involved in a domestic dispute when the gun went off. Both are charged with reckless homicide.
10News does not know if Major or Mason were ever investigated for child abuse. Those records are confidential, according to DCS.
However, 10News did uncover charges of aggravated arson filed in 2009 against Major after investigators say she and her then-boyfriend lit a fire in the bedroom of their rental home while her three children were still inside. Major ultimately pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of vandalism.
The investigator's report describes the home as filthy and strewn with old food, clothes and cat feces.
A law enforcement source who has had contact with Major in the past confirmed to 10News that Major lost custody of those children, but could not say whether DCS was involved.
DCS also would not confirm their involvement, but a spokesman says they are investigating the death of the six-month-old.
We also know from DCS that they had no previous contact with the baby girl before she was shot.
DCS Spokesperson Rob Johnson is not able to comment on the specifics of any case due to confidentiality issues.
But in general, Johnson says, there are no mechanisms in place that automatically trigger DCS involvement in a child's life because of a parent's history with the department.
Johnson says DCS' oversight is limited because of state law. But there are also circumstances where parents should be given the benefit of the doubt.
"Sometimes people do get their lives together," said Johnson. "Maybe they have a child and raise that child safely and happily.
In instances where that doesn't happen, Johnson says it is the public's responsibility to pick up the phone.
"The only way that DCS can know that there might be a child who is at risk, or who might be at risk, or might be neglected, is if we get a referral," says Johnson.
That means DCS also has no way of knowing if a chronic child abuser gives birth to another child, unless a concerned citizen reaches out.
That's why it's the public's responsibility to pick up the phone.
There are hotlines available for people to call 24/7 to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Those numbers are 1-877-54ABUSE, 1-877-542-2873, or 1-877-237-0004.