Former foster family says state not meeting needs of foster children

Posted at 8:57 AM, Jul 29, 2019

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    Nashville, TN (WTVF) — Thousands of children in Tennessee are in foster care.

But a recent foster family says the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) does not give parents the support they need.

The new DCS Commissioner, Jennifer Nichols told NewsChannel 5 Investigates this was an unusual case and that most foster parents feel differently.

Fred and Lekisha Campbell still have “thank you” notes on their wall from some of the six foster children they took into their home last year.

“I’m thankful we had some sort of impact on their lives,” said Fred Campbell.

Lekisha Campbell is a teacher. Her husband, Fred Campbell, is an assistant principal.

They often see foster children in their schools and wanted to help.

“What can we do to give back to the community,” Lekisha Campbell said when asked why they wanted foster children.

After going through training with the Department of Children’s Services, they were certified to care for up to 2 foster kids, but DCS called them last fall and asked them to take on six brothers and sisters.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Should they have asked you to take on six kids?”

Fred Campbell responded, “In hindsight no. I mean six was a bit much.”

DCS said they needed to immediately place six children — ages 11 weeks to 17 years old.

The Campbells said yes.

With four kids of their own, they suddenly had ten kids in their home.

“We both agreed it’s getting close to the holidays, maybe we could help them out through the holidays,” Fred Campbell said.

They believed it was a short term solution – to keep the brothers and sisters together.

But after the holidays came and went, they say support from DCS faded.

“There was no help. It was like ‘you’re complaining, why are you complaining?'” said Lekisha Campbell.

“All we heard was we’re lacking resources, we’re short staffed. It’s a tough region to fill,” said Fred Campbell.

Lekisha Campbell said their DCS case worker seemed overwhelmed. She told them she’d set up counseling sessions for one of the kids, but when Lekisha called, the doctor knew nothing about it.

“You feel that sense of hopelessness because you are trying to help, but you are not getting the support you need for the kids,” said Fred Campbell.

The Campbells say damage around their home pointed to help the kids needed but weren’t getting. Feeling overwhelmed themselves, Campbells realized they could not keep all the children.

DCS removed them in May.

The experience left the Campbells feeling concerned for all children in the foster care system.

Newly appointed DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said the department wanted to keep the six children together and the Campbells agreed to take them.

“From the perspective of the Department of Children’s and Family Services this looked like a brilliant placement,” said Commissioner Nichols.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “They felt like they weren’t supported. That’s what I heard over and over from them.

Commissioner Nichols said, “I understand.”

“Was the family supported?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

Commissioner Nichols responded, “There are two sides to every story.”

She said the department wishes it could support all families more.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Do you think your department did anything wrong in this case?”

Commissioner Nichols responded, “I don’t think our department did anything wrong.”

She said in the end DCS felt disillusioned with the Campbells, but she wouldn’t say why.

“I am not going to sit here in this interview and go through necessarily what those items are,” Nichols said.

She said DCS decided it was best to remove the children from the home, which DCS calls “disrupt.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Are you concerned that by saying this wasn’t a good placement, this family had problems, that it will discourage other families from being willing to be foster families?”

Commissioner Nichols responded, “Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m not disparaging anybody. Not disparaging anyone, this placement needed to be disrupted.”

Nichols said DCS has more than 8000 kids in foster care and more than 5000 foster homes.

She said most placements end very differently.

But the Campbells said they were left feeling forgotten, and are now concerned about the entire foster care system.

“The feeling we got was they were shuffling paperwork. They’re not really understanding that these are kids lives,” Fred Campbell said.

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