“We need help from all of you all in order to carry out [our] mission. DCS cannot do it alone,” said Sandra Holder, Tennessee Valley regional administrator. “I like to use the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. To make a picture you have to have every piece in place. If we do not have all the pieces in place, then the picture is not complete.”
Services community organizations provide are very important to completing the picture, Holder said.
Representatives from agencies in Bradley, McMinn and Polk counties attended the meeting. Holder said these agencies were instrumental in “Fostering partnerships to protect children, develop youth, strengthen families and build safe communities.”
The In-Home Tennessee framework operates by mobilizing the inherent talents, skills and abilities of the family and community. Representatives from nonprofit organizations, social services and law enforcement listened to the two-hour meeting and participated in the breakout sessions.
Participants were given a number prior to the In Home presentation. After lunch, they met with their groups to discuss various services offered in the Bradley, Polk and McMinn counties. These services were traced back to their organization of origin and rated.
“Through the service array we are going to assess the current services, create goals, devise a work plan and then implement that work plan to achieve the goals we set out,” said Crystal Parker, representative from Office of Child Safety in DCS.
Holder provided statistics for all three counties. According to the 2011 U.S. Census Data, Bradley County’s population is 100,055.
“As you can see, the Hispanic population is starting to grow, especially in Bradley County where it is up to 4.9 percent,” Holder said. “This means we also need to have interpretors, because a lot of the people we serve either do not speak English or do not speak English very well.”
The same census report showed a large difference in the number of high school and college graduates. Eighty percent graduated from high school, while only 19.2 percent of the population holds a college degree.
A Mega Report taken on Sept. 13, 2012 revealed Bradley County had 149 children in custody for dependents, neglect, and unruly.
A Judge’s Report taken in February 2012 revealed 37 percent of 128 children in custody due to parent substance abuse. This percentage is 11.9 percent higher than Tennessee’s statewide average.
According to Parker, one problem DCS faces is knowing which community programs are in place. She said sometimes families need services and DCS does not know where to send them.
“Wouldn’t it be great if families realized they were struggling and they knew the resources to go to in a community to receive help without ever having to touch the Department of Children Services in any way?” Parker asked the crowd.
The Regional Implementation Team integrates the assessments taken by the work groups into a single report with several sections: executive summary, overview of the Child and Family Snapshot Data, assessment of the practices, assessment of the services, and overall conclusions.
“The next step is development of goals and action plans. Based on the needs we identify, we are going to come back together and lay out what these three counties have identified as their needs,” said Mike Leach, Systems Integration director at Office of Child Safety in DCS.
Leach said action plans will develop around the needs.
“Next thing is implementation of the developmental plans,” Leach said. “We are going to focus on one or two needs and try to make a change. Then we will move forward to additional needs.”
Susan Loysen, national consultant with the Atlantic Coast Child Welfare Implementation Center, said the success of this program depends on the work of the community leaders.
“Folks come to these meetings with hope and skepticism,” Loysen said. “Some regions followed through and others did not do anything else, and they did not get anything else. I am impressed by Tennessee.”
A tentative timeline sets out steps one through eight over the course of four months. The first meeting is a part of month two’s steps. Additional meetings will be held in month three and four.
According to the timeline, the third meeting will be half a day. Work groups will be a part of three tasks: presenting strategies for improvement, finalizing capacity development plans, and discussion/planning implementation by the Regional Implementation Team.
DCS representatives reiterated community members only receive back as much as they put into the program.