NASHVILLE — Records released by the state Department of Children’s Services showing 42 cases where children died or nearly died after the agency had some type of involvement with them shows that half of the children were under 1 year old. Some of the records didn’t even include the child’s age.
A Nashville judge ordered the files released Friday after a group of media organizations, led by the Tennessean and including the Associated Press and the Chattanooga Times Free Press, sued to get access to them.
The Tennessean is reporting that records show that a 3- or 4-month-old girl identified as “Case No. 1” died after her father whipped her with a belt so she’d stop crying.
One of the files shows that a 14-year-old boy died when his parents delayed seeking emergency medical treatment when the child was having shortness of breath. A 2-month-old died after suffering from a brain injury. In that case, and several others, the DCS records drew no conclusions about whether the child died as a result of abuse or neglect and the files listed the cause of death as “undetermined” and said the perpetrator was “unknown.”
The files show children died from abuse, neglect, health problems, drowning and a house fire.
“There are some instances in which there should have been criminal prosecution and these poor children have died and no one is going to be prosecuted,” Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said Friday while ordering the release of the records.
Gov. Bill Haslam told The Tennessean on Saturday that he had not had a chance to look into the judge’s concerns but was going to. The governor said he was going to reserve judgment about the conduct of the agency that is charged with keeping some of the state’s most vulnerable children safe.
“I think in a lot of these cases you have to go back and look at the family situations, what exactly had DCS involvement been in the past, before I can jump to a conclusion,” Haslam told the paper.
Many of the files show that parents or caregivers of the children were abusing drugs. Parental drug abuse is behind an increasing number of children taken into state custody, DCS Commissioner Jim Henry said.
At least nine of the cases involved children who were sick with cancer, suffered from birth defects or had alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms. The case files of some of those children raised questions about whether they received adequate medical care.
Henry has revamped DCS and the way it will investigate abused and neglected children in the future. The commissioner has no plans to review the 2012 cases to see whether some of the cases should have been criminally prosecuted or to see if child protective workers made sure surviving siblings were safe.
“We have not talked about going back and doing any investigations prior to January” of 2013, Henry said. “We kind of have our hands full with what we’re trying to do now.”