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VOL. 36 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 12, 2012




DCS head outlines problems with abuse figures

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Children's Services Commissioner Kate O'Day says her department can account for every child reported to it in a severely abusive situation.

That said, O'Day told the Second Look Commission the 256 severe abuse cases reported to the panel for 2010 was an undercount.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/OqyyIe ) reported the commissioner also told the panel Wednesday that the 675 such cases reported for 2011 were skewed high and included 2010 cases, making year-to-year comparison impossible.

"I'm here to tell you that the safety of children is a key priority for this administration. I welcome these conversations," O'Day said. "We are very much wanting to be data driven in all our conversations."

The Second Look Commission is made up of lawmakers, police, prosecutors, child advocates and others who have a stake in children's welfare.

"I don't think that would have affected your recommendations," O'Day said of the numbers. "The only thing we do not know is the trend data."

The commission analyzed the figures provided by DCS and calculated that 77 percent of repeat child abuse cases involved sex abuse. The conclusion led to recommending a focus on inconsistent child protection practices at the county level.

Using the figures, the body also concluded that 45 percent of cases involved mental health issues, prompting the commission to recommend more training statewide.

The information, however, is no longer an accurate portrayal of 2010 child abuse victims.

"It's disappointing to be without accurate data," said Craig Hargrove, Second Look Commission executive director.

However, Hargrove said the inaccuracies don't invalidate nearly two years' worth of work by the commission.

"Despite some problems with the numbers, we are still looking at real cases and real children," he said.

Commission member Dr. Debra Quarles Mills, a pediatrician from East Tennessee State University, said having correct numbers is critical.

"If you have data, you can do something that makes a difference," she said.

O'Day said she is working to correct longstanding problems in the department.

"This department has historically faced data issues, and our current conversation is a direct result of those issues," she said.

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