The newly appointed commissioner had lunch with area leaders and visited the Bradley County Juvenile Court.
Before becoming DCS commissioner, Henry served as the interim commissioner, while serving as the commissioner of the newly formed Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
“It was a huge job,” Henry said.
He took on the DCS commissioner position in May.
“One of the big things I wanted to do when I came in was send everyone back to the field,” Henry said. “Everybody that was in our Nashville office — I’m not just talking about people that were deputy commissioners and commissioners. I’m talking about receptionists and accountants. I wanted them to get a feel for what it’s like out there when you are doing an investigation,” the commissioner said.
Henry himself went with a case worker to a home.
He said some children do not have a chance at success unless DCS or churches or nonprofits become involved in their lives.
Partnerships between organizations and DCS are important to serving children. Henry said he has committed to working with Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes for foster parents. He is also working with Hiwassee College to establish a partnership so that foster children who turn 18 can attend college and live there.
During the luncheon with local leaders, Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock asked the state commissioner how the department was doing in terms of funding. Henry said some funding had been requested to computerize the system. Additional funding was given for training and raises for Child Protective Services personnel.
“The problem we continue to have is ... this drug culture,” Henry said. “I don’t think money is the answer to our problems. The answer is trying to get some of these people to leave (abusing) prescription drugs alone, and then it gets into meth and then you get into heroin and it just never ends.”
He added that the department needs more case workers.
The luncheon was hosted by state Rep. Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland who represents the 22nd Legislative District.
After the luncheon, Juvenile Court Judge Daniel Swafford and director Terry Gallaher gave the commissioner and DCS staff a tour of the facility’s behaviorial unit, garden and detention area.
“I’ve been very impressed with what they’re doing here. It feeds on the cooperative attitude this county has,” Henry said. “The ways they figure out and all the resources they put together to make things better for kids is amazing.”
DCS Southeast region administrator Sandra Holder said prevention measures taken by the Juvenile Court deal with issues and keep children from getting to the point of being taken into state custody.
Henry said juvenile court programs that help families address and work through issues keep around 2,000 children from being put in state custody.
One area the commissioner was interested in was the day treatment center. The day treatment center is a classroom in the court’s behaviorial unit that serves elementary school students that are dealing with disruptive behaviorial issues.
The court provides the space and Bradley County schools provides two teachers.
“This is outstanding,” Henry said of the classroom.
Vickie Towne emphasized that the behaviorial unit works with the families to address behaviorial issues and causes of that behavior.
It also gives the court a chance to help the families in other ways.
“We’ve been able just this week to help ... some children with school supplies ... if I have one of my probationers come and say I need some paper, we make that our priority to help the get ready,” Towne said.
Swafford said most of the issues that bring a student to the court can be traced back to “family dynamics.”
Often a child’s first experience with the juvenile system is through campus court. Held at the schools, this court deals mostly with truancy and school behaviorial issues. The next step would be family court, then juvenile court.
“We try to identify the problem as early as we can and get the right resource there (to prevent further issues),” Swafford said.
Towne said many of the children they see just “need someone to give them a chance.”
Gallaher said a partnership with Camelot Care Center that has provided in-home intervention has greatly decreased the number of children going into state custody. TennCare is used to pay for these services.
The court works with families as part of most of its intervention programs. Gallaher said a grant from DCS funds a position in the behaviorial unit.
From touring the behaviorial unit, Juvenile court staff took the commissioner on a tour of the facility’s garden. Gallaher said the greatest asset to this project was a partnership with the local Master Gardeners program. The garden provides an opportunity for students to learn about plants and where food comes from, while earning community service hours.
Gallaher said he has given tours to four or five juvenile courts from other counties looking at what elements they could adopt in their own facilities.
The commissioner and his team left the juvenile court to tour the Cleveland DCS office before heading to Hamilton County.
“One of the big things I wanted to do when I came in was send everyone back to the field. Everybody that was in our Nashville office — I’m not just talking about people that were deputy commissioners and commissioners. I’m talking about receptionists and accountants. I wanted them to get a feel for what it’s like out there when you are doing an investigation.” — Commissioner James Henry