MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Almost a dozen lawmakers, like Tennessee State Senator Heidi Campbell, have been urging Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to address the concern around the Department of Children’s Services.
Conditions were described as "horrific." Some of the children in state custody had to reportedly sleep on DCS office floors and, in one case, Senator Campbell said there was a child who had to call a hospital their home for 270 days.
Fostering agencies and parents are also calling out for help.
According to a DCS recruiter for foster parents, currently there are more than 8,500 children in state custody in Tennessee — 1,300 children in the Shelby region alone.
They say right now one of the biggest needs is for foster parents to step up. Those who can offer homes to teenagers, sibling groups and Spanish-speaking children are especially needed.
“Our nation is in need of foster parents, and Tennessee is no different,” Lanique Jones with Harmony Family Services said. “The best gift that you can actually give one of our children during this holiday season is to really become a foster parent.”
To become a foster parent in Tennessee, there are a few requirements.
Potential parents must be 21 or older, have a health exam documentation of income, undergo a fingerprint and background check, participate in a home study and attend informational as well as training meetings.
Two decades ago Anthony Johnson and his wife answered the call and began that journey to become foster parents.
“And 20 years later we’re still doing it. Every so often we’ve got new family members. We got a new family member three years ago that we’re about to adopt,” says Johnson.
He and his wife saw the need children had for a home, a need that would continue to intensify over the years.
“COVID did a number, not just on foster parents, because a lot of good foster parents, but also on a lot of DCS staff,” says Johnson.
Over his time as a foster parent, Johnson began leading others through a similar journey at DCS, which is why reports on it's conditions has only renewed his effort to find new foster homes.
“Pulls on your heartstrings. Of course, 20 years of being a foster parent, I’ve been in the DCS offices, they are not made to be living quarters. I know the offices don’t have showers, they don’t have places for hot food, and so those are just basic needs that we all need day to day that they’re being deprived of,” says Johnson.
He asks for anyone willing to open their home to apply to become a foster parent, or help connect willing organizations DCS to help it find additional housing for children.
“You have the ability to change a child’s life or the trajectory of their life by just connecting with them,” says Johnson.
To become a foster parent you can follow the instructions using this link.