- The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services if facing a host of challenges.
- On Monday, Commissioner Margie Quin appeared before a state House panel to seek nearly $27 million in new funding.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services on Monday requested approval to spend nearly $27 million to increase bed capacity and foster care placements for hundreds of children in state foster care.
The funding request is separate from a pending $156-million request in the 2024 state budget, which Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is currently reviewing. Lee is expected to release his proposed budget in February.
DCS Commissioner Margie Quin said Monday the supplemental funding request is primarily focused on increasing bed space for older and high-need children, in addition to increasing foster care placements for teenagers and large sibling groups. The department could begin using the funds immediately pending legislative approval.
The supplementary funds would be drawn from an existing pot of state money, Department of Finance and Administration Budget Director David Thurman said.
“It’s a result of overcollection and underspending in prior years,” Thurman said.
The injection could provide some immediate relief for the beleaguered department, which has reported abysmal staff turnover rates and diminished housing capacity for children in state care.
DCS frequently uses its own offices and case workers to house children overnight, often for weeks at a time, in state offices, a process Quin has previously said can traumatize both children and staff. These youth are often waiting for placement in residential facilities due to increased medical or behavioral needs and can’t be placed in “level one” foster homes, Quin said.
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“We’re doing what we can now to try to make a difference in the amount of kids that in offices and transitional homes,” Quin said. “We’ve got to do something right now.
Quin told the House Financial Ways and Means Committee the funds would go to three objectives. General state funds and TennCare would contribute the bulk of the funds, with some federal funding added in.
Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said lawmakers would need to consider how the supplemental funding would impact the budget going forward, as the redirected funds would convert to recurring expenses for the department in the future.
Increase provide rates
Though Tennessee contracts with around 30 providers in the state to provide residential services, those providers are private companies who often house children from surrounding states.
Quin said Monday other states pay as much as $100 more than Tennessee does per bed, per day.
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DCS requested $20.4 million to boost their provider rates, which is estimated to add around 118 more beds.
Though it’s possible Tennessee could still be outbid, Quin said the department has negotiated with at least one provider to begin reserving 80% of their capacity for Tennessee children under the proposed new rates. The additional beds would be equally distributed through the state, Quin said.
Added clinical assessment beds
DCS requested $4.1 million to add 48 “assessment” beds, which would be added to existing, vetted facilities, Quin said. These beds would be used for children entering the DCS system with clinical medical and mental health care needs.
Increase foster care reimbursement rates
DCS concentrated $2.1 million to increase foster care rates for large sibling groups and teenagers, who are often the most difficult to find long-term placements for, Quin said.
The rate increase would nearly double the current daily reimbursement, from $29.30 to $50, in addition to a $2,000 bonus for placements that last at least six months. DCS “borrowed” the idea from Georgia, which Quin said was successfully implementing a similar program.
In frank comments to the committee, Quin said foster families often are more willing to take babies or young children, and teenagers are most at risk for constantly shifting home placements.
“We want to be careful not to make this a money-making venture,” Quin said. “But teens and large sibling groups are incredibly challenging to place, and teens are expensive.”
Pending budget request
The department’s supplementary request is in addition to a pending budget request for the incoming fiscal year, which included a $69.3 million ask to overhaul the DCS case management system.
DCS also requested:
- $15.8 million for case manager salary increases;
- $11.4 million for private provider case management as DCS
- $30 million increase for providers, the contracted companies DCS often places children with;
- $5.7 million for adoption services;
- $7.4 million for “prevention” services
Reach Melissa Brown at [email protected]