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Kids are sleeping in the Knox County DCS office while it struggles to find homes, state leaders say

A Knoxville lawmaker said there's evidence a 5-year-old child has been sleeping there since July. A DCS leader said it's happening across the state.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Children forced to spend the night on the floor of state offices have lawmakers raising the alarm over a crisis in the state. Lawmakers point to new numbers showing children awaiting placement in foster care homes had to spend more than 1,000 nights in offices just since April. 

The exact number of children is unclear but lawmakers told 10News it does include children in Knox County. 

About a month into her new role as the head of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Margie Quin said children in state custody are sleeping on office floors and her staff is “traumatized.”

She said all state beds for these children are full. “Because of the limitation of beds, there are about 11 to 15 juvenile justice youth in local DCS offices waiting for appropriate placements," she said Wednesday to a group of lawmakers. 

Tennessee Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said that number is not accurate and there are several more children who have not yet been placed into foster care. These children are staying in non-profit waiting homes like the Isaiah 117 House. 

Ronda Paulson with the Isaiah house said the Knoxville location is not yet ready to receive children overnight and that they are only able to provide assistance at this time. Paulson said it is a tough time for DCS case workers and the organization is doing what it can to help alleviate some of the stress. 

The DCS annual report shows Knox County is serving an average of almost 700 kids in foster care. The details of that report show the state is in dire need of case workers.

"Literally they're sleeping on floors in offices. DCS workers tell me they don't have showers, they don't have anything," Johnson said. "There is serious abuse that they don't have the staff to address right now."

Johnson said she personally uncovered evidence that one five-year-old child with a disability has been living in the Knox County DCS office since July.

"We are traumatizing our most vulnerable kids who are in custody because of trauma," she said. 

Maggie Kimball, a former DCS employee, now works with the non-profit Safe Harbor, helping children who have suffered trauma. Last year they served 854 across four counties in East Tennessee -- a grim record of caring for kids in crisis and the most they have served since opening in 2005. 

"How are we going to prevent child abuse so that we don't have to worry and we do not need more and more foster parents and more and more DCS workers? I would love to be working myself out of a job," Kimball said. 

Kimball worked for DCS in the late 90s and said the state has faced a shortage of families willing to foster children for a long time. 

"There were times we would have kids waiting in the office where DCS workers were doing their best to get those placed and there were shortages of foster homes," Kimball said. "If there were enough foster homes they wouldn't be there."

WBIR reached out to Governor Bill Lee's office. A spokesperson said they are aware of the ongoing concerns and are working on solutions. WBIR asked the Knox County DSC office and we are still waiting for a response.

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