Tennessee foster children staying longer in state custody, DCS leader says

Tennessee foster children staying longer in state custody, DCS leader says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - New numbers from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services show foster children are spending more time in state custody.

"Our numbers are going up and the children that come into custody are staying longer," said Jennifer Nichols, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Nichols told lawmakers on the Senate health and welfare committee that kids in foster care stayed an average 482 days in fiscal year 2019, compared to 441 days in fiscal year 2013.

Nichols says the drug addiction problem in Tennessee, including the opioid epidemic, are contributing to more kids entering the foster care system.

As of last week, Nichols said there were more than 9,000 children in the state's foster care system, including about 1,000 in Shelby County.

This includes children who are being cared for by private organizations the state contracts with.

DCS is asking lawmakers for an increase in state funding of about $28 million for the next fiscal year.

Part of the extra funding would go to provide a five percent salary increase for case managers.

Nichols told lawmakers that being a case manager is a job that comes with low pay and little praise.

"These are college-educated people that start at $32,292," said Nichols. "You guys thank us, but outside the General Assembly, it's pretty thankless for these people that are going into homes and doing the kinds of jobs that they do."

Nichols says most caseworkers who quit leave within the first year.

She says a pay increase will help DCS keep more of those workers and deal with the growing challenges that stem in part from the drug epidemic.

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