Governor Bredesen recently hired his second commissioner for the Department of Children’s Services. Michael Miller was asked to resign, and was replaced by Viola Miller, a former social services administrator from Kentucky. The beleaguered department has been under fire by the courts and child advocate groups for several years. The problems were created when then-governor Don Sundquist combined the Department of Youth Development (DYD) and parts of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in 1996, and have persisted to this day. One of the main areas of concern is the inability of DCS to retain caseworkers after they are hired and trained. As a former supervisor for the Department of Knox County, I was well aware of the extreme demands placed on caseworkers in the field. The paperwork requirements were simply overwhelming, and led to a continuous exodus of employees to other jobs. Supervisors and caseworkers alike were constantly threatened with disciplinary action, and staff morale plummeted. Given these conditions, it was not difficult to understand why so many left the agency. My feeling is the mess Sundquist created needs to be undone. The consolidation of the two departments has been a miserable failure. Other states, Florida being an example, have tried this and found it does not work. DYD has expertise with delinquent youths, and needs to be solely responsible for their care. DHS is a social service provider, and should concentrate on child abuse, family problems, foster care and adoption cases. I wish the new commissioner well in dealing with the situation she has inherited. My advice to her would be to make it an employee-friendly department again. If that does not happen, the problems will continue to exist indefinitely.
Bill Wright is a columnist for The Herald Newspapers. His views on politics can be found weekly on the editorial pages of The Seymour Herald and The Smoky Mountain Herald.... read the rest of the story by Subscribing now.