Staff Reports

Tennessee has reduced the number of children in its foster care system by 34 percent since 2000, while providing more effective help to families, according to a study released by Casey Family Programs.
The study shows the number of children in state custody in Tennessee has fallen since 2000 from 10,144 to 6,702 in 2009. In addition, Tennessee has decreased the number of children in long-term foster care, and the rate of children in out-of-home placements is now below the national average. At the same time, recurrences of abuse and neglect in children have decreased, indicating the safety of reform efforts.
The study was conducted to share the examples of states and counties that have been successful in child welfare reform. It outlines the way the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has worked with Youth Villages, its largest private provider, to bring about reform. Casey Family Programs is the nation’s largest operating foundation focused entirely on foster care and improving the child welfare system.
“Tennessee is a jurisdiction that has achieved a significant and safe reduction in the number of children in the child welfare system,” the study concluded. The complete study is available at www.youthvillages.org.
“This is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of our staff and our partners across the state,” said Viola Miller, DCS commissioner. “The hard work over the past few years required us to examine what we were doing well and where we needed to improve. We could not have achieved these gains without the diligence and vision of partners such as Youth Villages. Together, we are helping to ensure the safety and well-being of the children we all serve.”
Nationwide, more than 500,000 children are growing up in foster care or residential facilities in individual state child welfare and mental health systems. Many states are under federal court oversight that mandates they help children return to their families or find permanency quickly through adoption. In Tennessee, Children’s Rights, a national child advocacy group, brought the Brian A. lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services in 2000. A federal court settlement monitors reform efforts.
When Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed Miller to lead DCS in 2003, the state was failing to make progress on compliance items involved in the Brian A. settlement. The report credits Miller with the leadership needed to develop and implement wide-ranging strategic plans that brought change to the department.
“Tennessee deserves to be recognized as a leader in child welfare reform and receive acclaim for bringing the most effective help to its most vulnerable children and their families,” said Patrick W. Lawler, chief executive officer of Youth Villages. “Youth Villages has been honored to work with Commissioner Miller and her staff as DCS adopted innovative new treatment approaches and made difficult structural changes.”
Utah, Illinois and counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and Washington have been the subjects of previous reports.
Youth Villages’ work in Tennessee has made it one of the country’s fastest-growing nonprofit organizations, now helping more than 16,000 children each year in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Named one of the Top 50 Nonprofits to Work For by Nonprofit Times, Youth Villages has been recognized by Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report, and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations.