For the second year, the embattled Department of Children's Services is getting budget help from Gov. Bill Haslam.
The governor is proposing a $6.4 million state funding increase for the agency charged with investigating child abuse and neglect and running the state's foster care system and programs for delinquent youth.
The proposed budget increase would allow the department to hire 49 more child protective service workers and 40 family services caseworkers, buy 2,000 electronic tablets for caseworkers to use in the field, increase payments to foster parents and invest more in adoption programs.
"We're tickled to death with it," DCS Commissioner Jim Henry said. "We got everything we asked for."
The budget announced by the governor comes on the heels of a critical audit of the child welfare agency by the state comptroller.
The audit cited poorly handled child abuse investigations, a failure to follow the law in reporting child deaths to lawmakers, a failure to perform background checks on some foster parents and a failure to adequately supervise some juveniles on probation.
The audit also found caseworkers were handling too many cases — a problem Henry said the proposed budget will go a long way to address.
The department's ongoing problems have received widespread public attention. A new survey of public opinion by Middle Tennessee State University found that 35 percent of Tennesseans feel DCS is not doing a good job, 17 percent feel the agency is doing a good job and 48 percent are unsure. The poll of 600 Tennesseans was conducted Jan. 23-26.
The governor's budget includes a proposal to increase payments to foster care parents by $758,000. Individual foster care parents may not notice a big impact, as proposed payment increases range from 7 cents to 18 cents per day, depending on the age and needs of a child.
The budget proposal, which lawmakers must approve, also calls for includes some cuts to the department, including cutting 11 positions and ending plans to house juvenile offenders in a new youth center. The department noted a decrease in the number of delinquent youth coming into state custody.