DCS Guidance on COVID-19
On this page you will find information on the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak specific to DCS staff, foster parents and private providers. There is also information from the TN Department of Health and the Office of Governor Bill Lee.
Dear Fellow Tennesseans,
Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services is aware that children and families across the state may need additional support during this unprecedented and challenging time. As always, our priority is ensuring the safety, permanency and well-being of children by building strong, healthy and empowered families. You can help us achieve this goal by looking out for the children and families in your community. If you identify a family that may need assistance, reach out with a helping hand to link them to important resources found in the guide to the right. By taking care of the children in our communities, together we can make a difference.
Commissioner Jennifer Nichols
- Guidance for Foster Parents *updated July 2021
- Click here to read a message from DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols
- TN Department of Education
Information from state education leaders on their response to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
- kidcentral tn
Information about how to talk to your kids about coronavirus and what families need to know to stay healthy.
- How are you protecting children who could be in dangerous situations?
The Child Abuse Hotline continues to operate and has never been down during this crisis. Our staff continue to follow the same protocols to ensure all reports of child abuse and neglect are screened and investigated.
DCS Child Protective Services investigators are still making face-to-face visits for initial reports of child abuse and neglect and will continue to do so in any cases in which the safety of a child is a concern.
Face-to face-visits are continuing for all initial CPS visits. Subsequent visits should utilize videoconferencing when possible unless there are safety concerns in the home, which warrant a face-to-face visit. This decision should be made in consultation with the supervisor. Face to face visits are also continuing when safety concerns exist in the home, when a Juvenile Justice youth is transitioning home from an out of home placement to a trial home visit, and when foster parents, biological parents, caregivers do not have videoconferencing capabilities.
To report child abuse in Tennessee, call 1-877-237-0004.
- Are you still conducting home visits?
Yes, we are. DCS staff continue to make face-to-face contact for initial Child Protective Services visits, for any cases in which safety of the child is a concern. DCS received permission from the federal Children’s Bureau to conduct caseworker visits by videoconference, due to the extraordinary circumstances, but is making face-to-face visits if videoconferencing isn’t available. For youth placed on a Trial Home Visit (both D/N and JJ), DCS FSWs will visit the youth 1 time per month face to face in the home and the second visit can occur by video conference unless there are safety concerns in the home in which case more frequent visits may be indicated. Family visits are also happening by videoconference, when possible. When it is necessary for face-to-face visits, or in-office family visits to occur, staff are calling in advance to complete a health questionnaire with the family to determine any risk due to visitation. Staff are also following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Tennessee Department of Health.
- Are you still conducting new foster placements?
Yes, DCS continues to place new foster children every day. We are grateful for our foster families who are opening their homes during this crisis. DCS is asking screening questions of children and their parents prior to placement and children are receiving initial medical exams within 72 hours of placement. DCS and Private Provider agencies have continued to recruit, train and approve foster parents to utilize as placement resources during the pandemic.
- What should foster parents do if they think they might have COVID-19?
Foster parents who have any symptoms* that could be related to COVID-19 should be tested. If they have been in close or direct contact with someone with COVID-19, they need to quarantine for at least 10 days; if they become symptomatic they should be tested. They should quarantine themselves away from others as much as possible until the test results have been received. If positive, they need to notify their DCS contacts, including the case managers for any children in their care.
*Symptoms could include one or more of the following: fever or chills, cough, shortness or breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of sense of smell or taste, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Are court appearances canceled?
Some have been rescheduled. The Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court has declared a state of emergency for the courts and suspended most in-person court proceedings through the end of March 31, 2021. This order applies to juvenile court proceedings, but there are some exceptions, such as “Proceedings related to relief from abuse” and “Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child safety, placement, permanency, or federal funding.”
DCS’ legal staff has checked with each court and has a general understanding that the courts will hear emergency matters involving the safety of children. Most hearings are being held via telephone or videoconference, but some are being held in person. Some courts are also continuing to hold adoption hearings by electronic means. There is some variation between courts as to whether they can hear terminations of parental rights virtually and as to whether the most recent Supreme Court orders exempt terminations of parental rights from the general suspension on in-person hearings. Our current understanding is that terminations of parental rights are included in the suspension of in-person hearings.
- What precautions are being taken at residential treatment facilities for youth in congregate care?
DCS central office staff hold regular conference calls with all providers who wish to participate to address concerns and provide guidance for the treatment of youth in congregate care facilities.
Following guidance from the CDC, DCS strongly urges private providers who operate residential treatment facilities to conduct COVID-19 symptom and temperature checks on all employees and other essential personnel prior to entry into their facilities. DCS encourages providers to allow safe visitation for immediate family when appropriate while implementing social distancing and mask requirements during the visits. DCS has also suspended visitors to all facilities except for attorneys and medical personnel. The same practices regarding symptom and temperature checks and suspension of visitors are currently underway at Wilder Youth Development Center, which is operated by the department.
- Is the COVID-19 crisis having any impact on the number of child abuse and neglect referrals?
This is a real concern. Many reports of child abuse and neglect come from teachers, childcare workers, and medical professionals – all of whom are not currently seeing children on a regular basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with higher levels of stress in this uncertain time, children being cooped up with parents or caregivers for longer periods of time, and the impact that unemployment may have on the family, the number of children being physically abused or neglected is likely to be higher than normal.
It is more important than ever to increase awareness that EVERYONE in Tennessee is a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect. We encourage neighbors, friends, family and even parents to be vigilant and to call the Child Abuse Hotline (1-877-237-0004) if they suspect any incidents of child abuse or neglect.
The number of calls to the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline has decreased this Spring compared to the same time period in 2019. There were 90,006 calls to the Child to Child Abuse Hotline from March 1 - December 5, 2019, compared to 77,766 from March 1 - December 5, 2020. This reflects a 13.6 percent decrease in the number of calls handled during this time.
- Will foster children still continue to participate in court-ordered visitation?
Yes, court-ordered face-to-face visitation is continuing in person. For visitation that is not court-ordered, DCS is utilizing videoconferencing technology to ensure the health and safety of children and families.
When videoconferencing is not possible, DCS will facilitate visitation in our offices or alternative locations.
- What safety precautions are in place for caseworkers who are still making home visits?
The department is committed to protecting Tennessee's most vulnerable population, abused and/or neglected children. Due to the recent pandemic, we have had to take certain steps to also ensure the protection of our workers labor on the front lines of this crisis. When a worker needs to conduct a face to face visit, we have provided guidance to employees to contact the home before each visit. Upon contact, each employee will use a health questionnaire developed from guidance provided by the Tennessee Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control that helps them determine when a face-to-face visit can occur.
In addition, DCS has continued to partner with the Governor’s Unified Command and TEMA to obtain personal protective supplies for front-line employees. Each region has access to the needed protective supplies to distribute to staff to use while making visits with children and families. The supplies will continue to be distributed to staff as they become available.
- I’m interested in becoming a foster parent. Is DCS still training new foster parents during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, the department is still conducting pre-service training for prospective foster parents. For individuals interested in becoming foster parents, the department has temporarily moved the TN Knowledge Empowers You (TN KEY) training online. Live, interactive webinars allow individuals to continue the required foster parent pre-service training process from the safety of their home. We encourage anyone interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent to visit our website or call our toll-free number at 1-877-DCS-KIDS (877-327-5437).
- Are there child care resources available to foster parents?
The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) oversees child care resources and licensure. We encourage you to visit DHS’ website to learn more about financial assistance for child care and child care options and the availability of child care in your community.
DHS has also created a document that lists daycare centers across Tennessee with current availability. If you have additional questions regarding child care, please contact the Department of Human Services.
- DCS COVID-19 Testing *as of August 31, 2021
This Page Last Updated: September 20, 2021 at 9:27 AM