More than a half dozen currentDepartment of Children's Services employees came to the Channel 4 I-Team withcomplaints about hundreds of children being put at risk.
The DCS workers said kids are beingleft in abusive homes too long and returned to abusive homes too soon.
There are many reasons why DCS iscalled to intervene in a domestic situation, including a child not being fed orclothed properly, failure to take them to school and suspicions of molestationor beating.
If it's bad enough, the DCSinvestigator can recommend immediate removal. But it doesn't end there - aremoval, even an emergency removal, must be agreed on by an entire team of DCSpersonnel.
And many times the decision of the investigatorwho went to the house and interviewed the child, is reversed - and the childstays in the home.
"We have to come up with acreative, possibly less safe way for that child to stay off the books," oneDCS worker told Channel 4.
DCS workers said this is all becausethe state has to limit the number of children it takes into custody to 20 percase worker, and that DCS management watches those numbers closely.
It would be one thing if these were happyfamilies, but workers said sometimes children are reunited with stilldangerous, reckless families.
From 2007 to 2010, about 20 percentof kids reunited with their families after removal were removed again.
Hundreds of those kids are hurtagain.
"The children, because ofexpense, are put back or left with them anyway and cases are closed andchildren become cases," said another DCS worker.
Here's how the chain of commandworks:
A case manager says a child should beremoved and runs it by a team leader. The team leader then sends it to a teamcoordinator. The case then goes to the legal department, and after that, maybe it can go to a regional administrator.
Any one of those people, at anytime, can say "no" to removal for the child.
And DCS officials said that is theway it should be.
"When we get to the point ofconsidering removing a child from a family, there are supervisors that reviewthe information, there's legal staff that review it from a legal perspective.-because it really is a legal action. It's an intervention that we have to gobefore a juvenile court judge, and we have to prove our case," said CarlaAnderson, DCS executive director for child safety.
"We have to present evidencethat says this was bad enough and there were no other alternatives but to bringthis child into custody" she said.
But the case managers who recommendremoval, who actually believe removal is the safest option, feel awful aboutleaving kids in situations they said are dangerous for the kids who bravelytold on their parents.
"Then, the system tells thosepeople that they are not going to keep those kids safe. And they don't have to lookat those children, when those children have to go back to parents who areunhappy because they told on them," a DCS worker said. "You're theone who lives with it, because you had the initial experience. And the rest ofthe folks can say, 'yeah I know,' but then they won't remember it two days fromnow."
DCS said this isn't about caselimits or a lawsuit. This is a serious thing to take a child from its parents.It is a last resort, and even then a lot of removals are blocked becausesomeone in the chain of command recognizes they don't have the legal right todo it.
"There are certainly times whenthat approval is not given, because we don't have that evidence. I think from alegal perspective they know their courts well enough that if you don't have it,it's not going to be sustained," Aaron said.
But how do you explain cases likethis one?
DCS took a child from its mother andgave the child to its father. But DCS already had a file on the father, sayinghe was a child abuser and a convicted violent offender, who doused the housewith gasoline and threatened to burn the mother alive while she was pregnant.
That case earned emergency removal,right? No, it took three months to get the baby back.
"You think your child is beinghurt, and you let them stay there. As a parent you would never do that. But asa department, we do that. And in some instances, we don't just let them staythere. We make them stay there. It's just unbelievable," said State Rep.Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.
The I-Team has received more than 50phone calls and emails about DCS and our investigation.
We are combing through those andexpect to have some follow-up stories.
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