Tennessee’s Division of Kids’s Companies not monitoring vaccines for youths in custody

The Department of Children’s Services of Tennessee has removed its references to the “critical importance” of the COVID vaccine from its guidelines for foster parents and removed full data on the number of sick children from its website.

The agency has also failed to respond to questions as of last week over whether it is following urges from federal child protection agencies to take immediate steps to ensure children in state care are vaccinated.

DCS serves as the guardian for the welfare of Tennessee children who have been removed from their homes on allegations of neglect or abuse. As of last week, 8,965 children were in state custody – 3,762 are 12 years or older and are of the minimum age for the vaccine.

It is not publicly known how many children in DCS care received a COVID-19 vaccine. When asked how many of these children were vaccinated, department spokesman Rob Johnson said, “We don’t keep track of how many children have been vaccinated.”

As with other child protection programs across the country, children in DCS custody are more likely to be black or tan, a fact that prompted the Department of Health and Social Affairs to send a letter to DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols and other child welfare leaders on June 7th urge them to “help secure access to critical vaccines” for adolescents aged 12 and over.

The letter asked DCS to help foster parents by arranging vaccination appointments and providing transportation for the children to receive the vaccine. The federal policy also requires the department to immediately reach out to older children in custody – those in college or who have recently left DCS custody – to offer the same assistance. It called on DCS to work with public health nurses to get vaccines into group homes. The letter also asked department officials to reach out to foster parents with limited English language skills to ensure they have the information and resources they need to have children vaccinated.

DCS staff didn’t respond to questions last week about whether they’d followed advice from the federal government. Instead, the department appears to have withdrawn the guidance it gives foster parents, who – according to the agency – are responsible for deciding whether to vaccinate children in their care.

An earlier version of the guidelines, dated March 18, stated: “Vaccinations against this infection have been shown to be extremely important in controlling the pandemic and returning to normal. Vaccines are considered to be highly effective in preventing serious infections and death. “

The updated Foster Parents Guide eliminates almost all information about the vaccine. Instead, the document, which was updated on July 20, contains a sentence about the vaccine:

“Foster parents and other caregivers are given authority and responsibility for the day-to-day upbringing and care of the children they care for, in accordance with the child’s individual circumstances and in consultation with the child’s health care provider, including routine powers in matters such as nursing treatment , Vaccination, sight and hearing. “

The change in the language of the Ministry’s public relations work came eight days after Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the former state chief vaccine commissioner at the Department of Health. Fiscus has publicly stated that she was scapegoated by her bosses after some Republican lawmakers resented government efforts to provide teenagers with vaccine information.

In an interview with the Lookout last week, Fiscus noted that vaccines were particularly critical in group homes and apartment complexes. DCS has seen multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in children living in residential facilities.

“The children who are in DCS custody and who live in groups have seen cases rip through,” said Fiscus. “Now we can prevent that, and it is tragic that we do not provide easy access to the vaccine.”

To date, at least 1,247 children in DCS custody have contracted COVID-19, including 729 children in group facilities where outbreaks have occurred, 443 in nursing homes and 75 boys living in the Wilder Youth Development Center, a safe ward for children who sick are in trouble.

At least 51 other children in DCS custody have contracted COVID in juvenile detention centers, a number last updated in March. The department has since stopped publishing data on COVID outbreaks in these county facilities.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said she was shocked the department couldn’t say how many children in state custody were vaccinated. And she said she was concerned about the change in guidance for foster parents.

“This has nothing to do with marketing to children,” she said. “This is another step in the wrong direction, where we are once again on the edge of a cliff. These are our most vulnerable children in a global pandemic and we are making them even more vulnerable. We have to be more transparent, what happened to these children is no less. “

Rep Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

However, Rep. Bruce Giffey, R-Paris, was cautious, saying he still had no definitive answers on how to balance the risk of infection for children against the risk of adverse effects from the vaccine.

“This information is critical to any parent or foster parent or provider,” he said. “A responsible person has to evaluate this information – what is the risk of the vaccine for children? What is the risk of COVID? We have to know that first. “

Read more at tennesseelookout.com.

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