MEMPHIS - Your tax money is paying foster parents to care for kids when their own relatives want them.
A Whitehaven couple claims their family was split up when their son died and their 3 and 4 year old grandchildren went into the Department of Child Care Services system.
Dorothy and Curtis Covington say they are not permitted to see or visit their grandchildren so they turned to the Local I-Team for help.
"The youngest is Jeremiah and he just loves to play and Jemiyah wants to protect her little brother," said Dorothy Covington the children's grandmother.
Three-year-old Jeremiah Covington and four year old Jemiyah Covington went to the custody of DCS when their father became seriously ill almost fourteen months ago.
"It pains me greatly," said Pastor Curtis Covington.
Pastor Covington said the Tennessee Department of Child Services has no business permanently taking away his grandchildren.
"Yes we are grandparents, but we are parents. These are our children. We want to be able to have hands experience in their development. We don't want to leave that to a stranger. It's not their responsibility," Pastor Covington said.
The Covingtons raised five children in Whitehaven. Pastor Covington is a veteran and has ministered in Memphis for 23 years.
Grandmother Dorothy says DCS called her on August 14, 2015, and asked her to take the children immediately. Because the Covingtons were out of town at a family funeral, the children went into agency custody where they were placed with foster parents on August 17th, three days later.
"I feel like they're trying to steal our children because they will not let us have them, plain and simple," said grandmother Dorothy.
The Covingtons claim that despite repeated documented phone calls to DCS saying they wanted the children, DCS dragged the process out for months while working to permanently place the children with foster parents.
"It is an outrageous example of how the system has done a disservice to citizens of this city," said the couple's attorney Rachel Lambert, who was hired after the couple says DCS gave them the shaft.
Lambert went on to say, "These are grandparents who have the financial ability to care for these children. They have everything that it takes they passed their home inspection. They've been in the process since day one. They passed background checks... DCS, it took too long to process everything and now they're saying because the children have been with the foster parents long they're going to keep the children there for stability," Lambert said.
In court documents filed by DCS the Department says it has "no obligation" to recommend children go to the grandparents "after the initial removal and placement of the children" with the foster parents, only about three days after DCS first brought them to Department care.
But Lambert argues there is a continuing obligation to put family first under DCS protocol and federal funding guidelines.
We requested that DCS comment on the Covingtons' allegations.
A spokesperson for the department said it cannot comment on the specifics of the case, but that, generally speaking, it does try to place children with families.
The court will hear the Covingtons' request to set aside the final custody order to the foster parents and grant custody to them on October 28th.
DCS continues to oppose that request.
"We are reaching out to anyone that has a heart to help us to save our grandchildren from this beast of a system," Pastor Covington said.