NASHVILLE, Tenn.- State lawmakers reviewed findings of an audit assessing Tennessee Department of Children's Services' investigations of children's deaths.
The state investigates more than 37,000 child abuse and neglect cases every year.
The state comptroller's office reviewed 61 cases from 2004 through September of the agency's Child Protective Services Division. In a review of 61 cases of children's deaths, investigators determined that DCS failed to present 88 percent of those cases to the Child Abuse Review Team within its own mandated time of 60 days. Out of the 61 cases, 50 percent of those cases were not completed in 60 days.
The state comptroller's office found in the cases that were completed important information was missing from the file.
The audit found that the department also "did not notify the juvenile court judge of intake cases or the investigation results in most cases; and did not notify the District Attorney General of indicated cases of severe child abuse in most cases reviewed.
"In addition, most case files did not have all required information," according to the report. "Without proper adherence to policies and procedures for investigating children's deaths, the department risks jeopardizing these investigations, including determining the cause of death and perpetrator, if any."
It's a problem Sen. Thelma Harper said has been documented in audits dating back to 1999.
"It is a persistent problem," said Harper, a Democrat from Nashville. "And you find it difficult to believe that there are adequate measures being taken to ensure it doesn't happen."
The legislative committee that oversees DCS looked at the audit Monday. The auditor and DCS commissioner Viola Miller answered questions about the audit.
DCS Spokesman Rob Johnson told NewsChannel 5 Monday night that those 61 cases were among the toughest cases the agency had. The agency often had to wait for Metro to finish their investigations before theirs began and they had to wait for a period of time for toxicology reports and other information.
The agency admits there are problems, but administrators are working to fix them.
"I think we're here saying it's not perfect," said DCS Counsel Stacy Miller. "But is it much, much better, yes. And are we on the right road, absolutely."
DCS administrators did not deny the faults found in the audit, but they pointed out the department is making improvements. But that was something Memphis Sen. Ophelia Ford did not want to hear.
"You need to get with the funeral directors and you need to know what's going on. You don't know how many children we are burying," said Ford, whose family is in the funeral business. "And you don't know how hard it is. And what you're talking about ain't hit nothing with me, as a certified funeral services practitioner.
Commissioner Viola Miller said during that hearing that three years ago DCS had 22,000 open cases and now the agency's caseload is much lower.
She also said case workers in Child Protective Services have been given up to 30-percent raises to try and stop turnover and they've added staff to cut down on case load.
The legislative committee voted Monday to give DCS another year to work on its problems and they'll review the agency again next year.