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Lawmakers seek stronger investments in Tennessee children

by PRIDE Newsdesk

Democratic lawmakers are calling for new investments in children and families following a damning, new report from the Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth that says Tennessee is the worst state in the nation in foster care instability.

The State of the Child 2022 report gives a sobering assessment of health, mental health, economic stability, education outcomes, child welfare and youth justice in Tennessee. Particularly jarring was the section on foster care.

“Tennessee struggles with foster care instability at a level not seen across the rest of the country. Tennessee has had the highest rate of foster care instability in the nation every year from 2016 to 2020,” the report states.

This study arrives as Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is grappling with crisis after crisis at his Department of Children’s Services, the state agency charged with investigating child abuse and managing foster care placements. For years now, DCS has struggled to build its roster of foster families amid staffing shortages resulting from low pay, insufferable working conditions and mismanagement.

The annual report on the well-being of Tennessee children painted a grim picture of foster care in the state, but that isn’t the only threat to kids.

From housing and childcare to mental health, maternal mortality and education, the 66-page report lists dozens of policy areas where the state should implement reforms to improve outcomes for children and families.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, Senate Minority Leader said:

“The Kids Count report shows the adversity and uncertainty children are facing and underscores the need for immediate action. We should follow this roadmap and strengthen the support systems that lead to better outcomes for children.

“We know schools with fully funded wrap-around services, smart criminal justice reform and well-resourced agencies can make an enormous difference in the long-term potential of a child.

“Investing in our children is investing in the future success of our state. If Tennessee continues to ignore the needs of kids and young families today, we’ll pay for it down the road.”

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, House Democratic Caucus chairman, said:

“While I understand that this administration wants to spin this report as positively as possible, to do so would be tone deaf. We should be ashamed that our foster care system is the worst in the nation.

“This report outlines the significant challenges we face caring for Tennessee’s children, particularly those who have been abused or neglected. We have a duty to care for these innocent victims, and this should be a top priority.

“We will be filing several pieces of legislation to try and repair this broken system. Our bills will work their way through the legislative process, but it’s really the governor who should be leading the charge. He is to blame for our state breaching its duty to these children, so one would think he would be motivated to propose substantive solutions immediately. Our children are looking to us for care and protection now—not months down the line.”

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