The “Efforts at Reform” series is one that I had long ago envisioned, and I am gratified that I am finally able to provide this first contribution to the series. The state of Tennessee was selected as the first entry in the series for a number of reasons. Tennessee is in several respects something of a “typical” state, and it is one in which many of the common failings in the child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice systems may be readily identified.
Tennessee was identified in 1970 as having a “fragmented” system that harmed families and children more than it helped them. Children were entering state care at a very high rate, and lingering for lengthy periods of time. Paperwork piled up even as agency workers shuffled responsibility for returning children to their homes. In short, the agency had lost sight of its mission.
Through a remarkable early effort, a program was devised in Tennessee that was hailed by the Children’s Bureau as a model for the nation. The number of children entering care was dramatically reduced, and the program had reduced operating costs considerably.
Tennessee recently joined the ranks of many of its counterparts in the states by virtue of a legal action taken against its child welfare and foster care systems by Children’s Rights, Inc. Tennessee today presents anything but a model for the nation, but nevertheless among the political posturing and pandering to be found in this report is a claim precisely to that effect.
Rather than compose a dry and “scholarly” review of the state’s continuing efforts at reform, I instead wanted to provide some of the true color and flavor of the discourse between the various reformers and advocates in motion. I wanted also to provide a clearer window on some of the more political and bureaucratic aspects of system reform, as well as explore the duplicitous role of the Child Welfare League of America—a business association that casts itself as a child advocacy group—in forestalling meaningful reform.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading the first entry as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Last updated February 6, 2005