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Advocates worry a new bill by TN lawmakers could end up weakening child services across the state

Out of 9,000 children in the foster care system in Tennessee, 1,200 are in Shelby County, and some worry this bill could get in the way of helping them.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Concerns are rising for advocates for children’s services in Tennessee. 

They worry if passed, Senate Bill 0282 and House Bill 0330 could jeopardize child care across the state.

“I’ve been a foster parent for 20 years, current foster parent now, we see the need,” said Anthony Johnson. 

Right now, there are 1,200 children in the Shelby County foster care system.

“Until I can maybe assist or guide, or be a part of the solution, I’m going to be on the frontlines,” said Johnson.

He is one of many upset with state lawmakers considering the bills that could dismantle the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) entirely. Critics worry the bill is a form of retaliation after the commission released a report in January called “The State of The Child.” The report claimed Tennessee had the highest rate of foster care in the state.

“This year’s report did not speak positively about the foster care in this state,  which is one of the reasons we know that DCS has so much improvement to do," said Sen. London Lamar, "We have one of the worst foster care systems in the country.”

She is one of the lawmakers fighting to stop the bill others like Governor Bill Lee are supporting. Sen. Lamar adds the TCCY reports play a crucial role in addressing the needs of a child’s well-being in the state.

“When you dissolve this organization, organizations across the state would now have problems proving the need for funding to support the children and youth,” said Sen. Lamar.

Advocates are urging people in Tennessee to contact their lawmakers to keep TCCY whole, instead of spreading the services across other state agencies.

“Our babies are our most vulnerable population in Tennessee, and they need the utmost care, resources and support," said Sen. Lamar, "If we are dissolving an agency that, then we’re doing a disservice to the children that we swore that we would protect.”

In an email to ABC24, Governor Lee’s office said:

The Governor is deeply committed to strengthening support for Tennessee children and families, and in addition to more than $190 million to support DCS’s mission, this proposal is another meaningful step to better serve Tennessee children by incorporating important services and programs within various child and family-serving state agencies.

To be clear, Tennessee is not cutting services and programs for children or families, but rather, integrating them into state government, meaning that current services and programs will remain intact and be relocated.

The proposal underscores the Governor’s commitment to better serve children, something that he has been discussing for months. As he said in his State of the State address; “Last fall, we began working anew with our partners in the General Assembly to address the growing challenges in serving at-risk children in Tennessee, and quite frankly, across the country. The needs of Tennessee children have evolved, and our approach to serving them must evolve too.”

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