The Tennessee Department of Children's Services has been under intense criticism for not being able to correctly count the number of kids who died after being in contact with DCS workers.
The number has changed five times in recent months, and the new deputy commissioner in charge of fixing that very issue said he wants answers as much as anyone.
"The reason the numbers for the non-custody deaths changed was because the defining parameters kept changing. We have to come to a consensus on what is a non-custody death," said new DCS Deputy Commissioner Scott Modell.
Modell said those days are over. In fact, he will tell you exactly what now counts as a non-custodial DCS death.
"Any child in Tennessee known or unknown to DCS who dies and whose death is being investigated as an allegation of abuse or neglect - period," he said.
It may sound so simple and clear, but some wonder why it took a new regime to figure it out.
DCS officials said in January that 73 children who were brought to the department's attention died in 2012. The agency has corrected the figure to 105 children.
Likewise, DCS said earlier that 47 children it had contact with died in 2011, but revised that figure to 91 children.
"I can't explain why no one sat down and said, 'Let's define these numbers,'" Modell said. "It's a logical question to wonder why no one had done this before, and I can't explain it. This is a priority."
While this discussion is about getting numbers and documentation right, what it's really about is saving more children from horrible deaths.
"Moving forward, it will be clear what those deaths represent. The ultimate goal will be to learn from those deaths so we can reduce child deaths. That's what it's really about," Modell said.
There is, without question, a tremendous emphasis on transparency now with DCS, as well as a willingness unseen in many years on meeting with the media and explaining policy changes.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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