State lawmakers on Thursday approved the first steps in a plan by Department of Children’s Services to open a new transitional facility for kids coming into custody and to expand and add more security to buildings that house delinquent youth.
In the near term, the child welfare agency expects to add more than a 100 beds to house kids in its care, including a 24-slot temporary assessment center for kids coming into custody to be evaluated and renovating Woodland Hills, which previously housed boys who got into trouble with the law.
In total, lawmakers on the State Building Commission approved the initial phase of a $19 million expansion in institutional space for kids in DCS custody. The agency oversees both kids in custody as a result of abuse and neglect and youth who have landed in the juvenile justice system.
DCS Commissioner Margie Quin called it a “positive step toward mitigating the statewide youth placement crisis.”
For more than a year, the state agency has faced criticism for its treatment of children and youth in its care, including over a lack of appropriate spaces to place children taken from their families into state custody. Kids slept on office floors and caseworkers had — and continue to struggle — with impossibly large caseloads. A report by the Comptroller found some kids had slept in offices for 38 days, sexual abuse reports from children in institutions overseen by DCS weren’t investigated and the agency repeatedly placed children in harm’s way.
Quin, who started the job in September, told lawmakers Thursday there would be more changes ahead.
Standing Tall, a Nashville facility that houses about 50 teenage boys, will be getting more security, including exterior fencing and lighting, making it a “hardware secure facility” which could, in the future, house more teens who have committed violent acts.
Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, Tenn. — which likewise houses delinquent boys — will also undergo a $7 million renovation to add electronic surveillance in buildings and grounds, she said.