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"Horrific" conditions has lawmakers calling for action in Tennessee

“Things are very bad,” said State Sen. Heidi Campbell.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The recent death of a homeless toddler in Tennessee has lawmakers asking for quick action from Gov. Bill Lee.  It’s directed at the Department of Children’s Services

One lawmaker ABC24 spoke with described the current conditions as horrific, and says the department has been dealing with this crisis for years.

“Things are very bad,” said State Sen. Heidi Campbell.

Sen. Campbell is one of 11 lawmakers who are begging the governor for some form of action. She's asking for reform to the Department of Children’s Services, as children under its care have been left sleeping on office floors and in hospitals.

“We have children who are now living basically in hospitals, one child here in Tennessee at Vanderbilt was there for 270 days,” said Sen. Campbell.

Lawmakers said the current state budget has led to nearly 500 open case worker positions. It’s left the remaining caseworkers overloaded, with some dealing with nearly 40 cases.

“Case workers who tend to be people who really care about children and who work really hard to make a difference are being put in an impossible situation,” said Sen. Campbell.

Now lawmakers are asking for an additional $156 million to help address department shortcomings, which lawmakers said is only a fraction of the surplus the state has access to.

“We have the money and that’s been the case for quite some time, and I just want to remind people, those are our tax dollars. Definitely more than five billion dollars, so definitely money we could be employing to take care of these children,” said Sen. Campbell.

However, since the next fiscal year is not scheduled to begin until July, lawmakers are asking Gov. Lee to act sooner rather than later.

“He could declare a state of emergency, he could call a special session, he could give an executive order, there are all kinds of ways he can address this issue, we’re just asking he does something.  These kids are our responsibility,” said Sen. Campbell.

ABC24 has reached out for a comment from Gov. Lee and the Department of Children’s Services.  

In an email, the governor’s office said “Like nearly every state across the country, Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services has been most impacted by workforce challenges, which the department has addressed through consistent pay raises for caseworkers and will continue to prioritize in the upcoming FY23-24 budget. Public service is a calling, and in order to recruit and retain highly skilled caseworkers, DCS has made significant budget requests to ensure the department can offer competitive wages and benefits. The Lee administration is committed to solving these challenges and serving Tennessee children.”

We have yet to hear back from DCS.

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