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Harper, DCS Chief to Hold Forum on Woodland Hills Escape

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; September 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Thelma Harper and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will host a community forum to discuss public safety concerns following the escape of 32 teens from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.

“We want to be sure that we are doing everything we can at Woodland Hills to ensure not just the well-being of the young men in custody, but also safety of the neighbors who are concerned by recent events,” state Sen. Thelma Harper said.

Commissioner Jim Henry will answer questions from members of the community.

“We want the neighbors to be safe, and we want them to understand the work we do,” Commissioner Henry said. “It is just as important for us to hear what the neighbors have to say.”

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Northwest YMCA at 3700 Ashland City Highway.

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State Expands Funding for Foster Care Transition Program

Tennessee has become the first state in the nation to offer all children who grow up in foster care special services to help them adjust to becoming adults.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced that a program providing aid to foster children transitioning into adulthood is expanding through a public-private partnership with Youth Villages, a Memphis-based nonprofit that offers help for “troubled children and their families” in Tennessee and 11 other states.

“We’re now expanding the program to make it available to every young person who ages out of state custody in Tennessee. What that means is that Tennessee becomes the first state ever to make services available for a hundred percent of its former foster youth,” Haslam said.

The program’s aim is to help “a really vulnerable piece of our population at a very critical time in their life,” the governor said.

“The chances of finding a great job are pretty hard for anybody today, and if you’re coming out of foster care, the challenges are maybe even particularly unique,” Haslam said.

Since 2006 the Department of Children’s Services has contributed $9 million to provide assistance to foster children transitioning out of state care in partnership with Youth Villages. The nonprofit began their program in 1999 with funding from Memphis-area philanthropist Clarence Day, helping more than 5,000 young people in Tennessee since, according to an information sheet provided by Youth Villages.

DCS began their contribution to the program with $750,000, which the nonprofit has since been matching and growing to $2.2 million, said Patrick Lawler, CEO of Youth Villages.

However, the program was only serving about 60 percent of those aging out of the system. The state has now agreed to raise funding for the program to $3 million, matched by Youth Villages private donor funds, which will allow the organization to serve everyone growing up in the Tennessee foster care system, Lawler said.

There has been no increase to the department’s budget to accommodate the increase in funding, said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry. Instead, the department will fund the program with spending reductions in other areas.

Haslam said about 1,000 young adults aged out of the foster care system in Tennessee last year.

The program helps those in transition by providing them with a transitional living specialist, available for assistance at any time, to help former foster children finish school, find a job and become successful adults, Lawler said.

The state joined the federal Fostering Connections program last year, which “allows young people who meet certain requirements to stay in their foster homes until they’re 21,” and this expansion is the next step in serving this population, Haslam said.

“Everywhere I go I speak with commissioners, and occasionally a governor, often legislators, and every time they’ll ask us one question: where is this being done right? And every time we point to the state of Tennessee,” Lawler said. “The state of Tennessee, by far, has the most significant program for young people, especially vulnerable young people, and those aging out of the foster care system. And I’m proud that Tennessee is a national model.”

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Press Releases

Finney Requests Hearing on DCS Progress

Press release from the Office of State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; October 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will appear before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee in December to provide an update on the department.

State Sen. Lowe Finney requested the committee meeting in a letter to the committee chairman in June. The legislature, which adjourned in April, is not scheduled to reconvene until January. The meeting will give lawmakers and the general public an update on any improvements that have taken place in the department, as well as any new issues that have arisen since the Commissioner last addressed the committee on March 26.

“I want to thank Commissioner Henry for his stewardship of the department and total transparency since becoming Commissioner in February,” Sen. Finney said. “We as lawmakers want to do everything we can to help him make DCS an effective state agency and safe and helpful caregiver to the children of Tennessee.

“The public is rightfully concerned about the children in state custody and how we can best address their needs, whether it be with improved technology for case managers or better tools for law enforcement. This update is critical to the legislature’s efforts to keep children safe and healthy.”

The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19.

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Press Releases

Dept. of Children’s Services to Continue Three Branches Institute

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services; Sept. 24, 2013:

NASHVILLE – During the coming year, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will continue the Three Branches Institute, an initiative bringing together members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to work with the department on strengthening the state’s child protection and juvenile justice systems.

“For Tennessee to have a strong and effective system of children’s services, the three branches of government must have a clear vision on the mission of the services, and confidence that the services are generating desired outcomes,” said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry.

The Three Branches model grew from collaboration among the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Center for State Courts, and the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges. DCS is working on this initiative with Casey Family Programs and the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.

In Tennessee, the Institute has set a highly focused agenda, including: developing a clear picture of how well Tennessee’s child protection system works; a wide understanding of the complexities of child protection work; using standardized assessments by the courts and DCS to guide their work and to allow for uniform data collection; implementation of evidence-based practice alternatives to incarceration in juvenile justice; and allocation of juvenile justice resources to support community-driven solutions.

The Institute is expected to meet quarterly through August 2014. It began work in August 2012.

Members of the Tennessee Three Branches Institute are:

Legislative Branch
Representative Joe Armstrong
House District 15

Senator Mike Bell
House District 9

Representative Harry Brooks
House District 19

Representative Kevin Brooks
Senate District 24

Senator Charlotte Burks
Senate District 15

Representative John J. DeBerry, Jr.
House District 90

Senator Dolores Gresham
Senate District 26

Senator Jack Johnson
Senate District 23

Judicial Branch
Judge Donna Scott Davenport
Rutherford County Juvenile Court

Judge Nolan Goolsby
Putnam County General Sessions Court

Judge Tim Irwin
Knox County Juvenile Court

Judge Robert Lincoln
Washington County General Sessions Court

Judge William Peeler
Tipton County Juvenile Court

Judge Curtis Person
Juvenile Court of Memphis & Shelby County

Judge Ken Witcher
Macon County Juvenile Court

Executive Branch
Crissy Haslam
Tennessee First Lady

Will Cromer
Office of the Governor

Commissioner Larry Martin
Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration

Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH
Tennessee Department of Health

Commissioner Bill Gibbons
Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security

Director Mark Gwyn
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Commissioner Jim Henry
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield
Tennessee Department of Corrections

Commissioner E. Douglas Varney
Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services

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Press Releases

House Dems Applaud Haslam DCS, DIDD Appointments

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; May 21, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats are applauding the move by Governor Haslam to appoint Interim Commissioner Jim Henry as the permanent Commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services.

“Jim Henry is a great public servant who is unquestionably the best choice to move DCS forward,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “His qualifications, knowledge and professionalism will be a stark contrast and welcome respite from the mismanagement and scandal we have seen from so many other Commissioners in this administration.”

Commissioner Henry assumed control of the Department of Children’s Services in February when then Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned. Since then he has taken positive steps towards fixing an agency that was mired in allegations of secrecy and poor handling of cases.

“We would also like to congratulate Debra Payne for being selected to fill Commissioner Henry’s role as Commissioner of DIDDS,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This is an extremely important agency and I am confident that Deputy Commissioner Payne will be up to the task of leading this department with the same level of professionalism that Commissioner Henry did.”

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Press Releases

Haslam Appoints New Heads to DCS, DIDD

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 21, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Debra Payne as the new commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) as Jim Henry becomes the permanent commissioner at the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

Payne currently serves as deputy commissioner of DIDD and Henry as the interim commissioner of DCS.

“These two departments handle some of the state’s most difficult work concerning our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “I want to thank Debbie for taking on this new role in such a young department. Her experience and hard work will continue to serve the state of Tennessee very well.”

As deputy commissioner of program operations at DIDD, Payne has overseen two development centers, a statewide community-based service delivery system supported by more than 2,000 employees, 475 community providers and three regional offices.

“I want to thank Gov. Haslam for the opportunity to continue to serve Tennesseans with disabilities,” Payne said. “I look forward to working with this department and all of our providers in continuing to offer quality care.”

Payne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Middle Tennessee State University. She has served in numerous capacities throughout her career and is credited with assembling a nationally recognized Protection from Harm system as the statewide director of Protection from Harm for DIDD.

Payne lives in Mt. Juliet with her husband, Mike, and she has three children, two step-children and one granddaughter.

Henry was the first commissioner of DIDD, which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on January 15, 2011. He has headed up both DIDD and DCS since February when he became interim commissioner of DCS.

“I am honored to serve in this capacity with Gov. Haslam,” Henry said. “We have taken important steps at DCS, and we will continue to strengthen our processes and policies as well as continue to improve the department as a whole.”

The appointments are effective June 1.

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Press Releases

Haslam Names First Head of New ‘Intellectual Disabilities’ Department

Press Release from Gov.-Elect Bill Haslam, Dec. 22,2010:

Henry Will Be First Commissioner of New Department Formed by Legislature

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam today announced former state House Minority Leader Jim Henry as the first commissioner of the newly-formed Tennessee Department of Intellectual Disabilities.

The agency was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before the Tennessee Legislature made it a state department, and it will become official Jan. 5, 2011.

For the past 13 years, Henry has been the President and CEO of Omni Visions, Inc., a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. The company has operations in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“I’m delighted that Jim has joined our team because I believe he’s the right man to lead this new department,” Haslam said. “Jim has personal experience with these issues, and he has dedicated much of his legislative and professional career to helping families and children affected by intellectual disabilities and its unique challenges.”

A former Kingston mayor, Henry spent 12 years as a state representative, advocating on behalf of individuals with developmental difficulties.

“I’m honored to serve with Gov.-elect Haslam and be a part of the outstanding team he’s building for Tennessee,” Henry said. “I’ve been a life-long advocate for those with and affected by intellectual disabilities, and as a father of a child with developmental difficulties, I’m committed to serving Tennesseans facing the same challenges my family and I do.”

Henry, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, is married to Patricia, and they have three grown children. They attend First Baptist Church in Kingston. He was recently honored as Hiwassee College’s Alumnus of the Year.