Suffer the little children

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Overall, I had a pretty good Christmas. The cold snap was brutal, but family, friends, food, lights and music made the season better than tolerable, so I was lucky. Some kids who spent the holidays in state custody weren’t. They had a different kind of holiday.

What did they have for Christmas dinner? Was it cold inside the Department of Children’s Services offices where they slept on the floor? Were they lonely? What did they do on Christmas morning? Did the governor think of them while he celebrated on New Year’s Eve?

And what about Tennessee’s super majority Republican lawmakers who spent so much time last year congratulating themselves for protecting unborn babies from abortion and school-age children from librarians and drag queens? Do they give a hoot about the Tennessee kids who are struggling to survive a broken Tennessee foster care system?

How many of them bothered to read the damning Performance Audit Report of the Department of Children’s Services issued by the Comptroller of the Treasury on December 13?

Last legislative session, while Republican legislators were working themselves up about non-existent threats from drag queens and non-existent students demanding litter boxes in school restrooms because they identified as cats, real live children were (and still are, presumably) being treated worse than children who are wards of any other state.

And the criticism’s not just coming from Democrats – it’s public information documented in the comptroller’s general report (see link above). And Jason Mumpower is no Democrat.

Dawn Coppock, an adoption attorney who happens to be one of my personal heroes, wrote an op/ed column that appeared in the Nashville Tennessean this month. She spoke from first-hand knowledge of the abuse and neglect being inflicted on Tennessee kids by a Tennessee agency whose job it is to serve them – it says so right in the Department of Children’s Services title.

Coppock issued a call to action for anybody who actually cares about Tennessee children. She wants us to make some noise.

“People wonder how children fall into the hands of sex traffickers without anyone reporting them missing. Some of these children can because no one really knows where they are.

“DCS moves children from foster care to permanency quickly by helping parents remedy their circumstances or by terminating parental rights, or they used to. Foster care workers must attend court hearings, school meetings, medical appointments and planning meetings. They develop the steps parents must take to regain custody, refer parents to services, and monitor participations and progress, documenting every action in an antiquated database.

“Without enough caseworkers, children aren’t returned to their parents or adopted in a timely way. Children, birth parents and foster families are left in limbo. We can do better. Policy makers apparently need a public outcry to get motivated. Let’s give it to them.”

Tennessee finished FY 2022 with a $1.6 billion unbudgeted surplus after collecting 28% more tax revenue than lawmakers initially budgeted. The money is there to fix this. Hire more DCS caseworkers; pay them a fair wage.

These Republican lawmakers remind me of something that former Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said about them in 1981 when he quipped that so-called “pro-life” lawmakers believe “life” begins at conception and ends at birth.

That was back in 1981, but it still rings true today, and nowhere more than in Tennessee.

Reference points: Tennessee Lookout, Nov. 29, 2022, Children housed in hospitals for up to 8 months

Axios Nashville, Dec. 14, 2022, Caseworks overworked and exhausted

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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