By Anita Wadhwani, The Tennessean
Lawyers for the Department of Children's Services
claim that agency files on children who died or nearly died must be
transported by hand, from one location to another, in order to protect
the documents' confidentiality and integrity.
But the agency's own
written policies instruct staffers to use "express mail" when sending
children's files in the course of doing their work.
difference between hand-delivering files versus putting them in the mail
lies in the extremely high price tag DCS has put on the delivery costs
of making its files public.
DCS officials said they will charge $55,584.44 for records of more than 200 children it served since 2009 who later died or suffered life-threatening injuries.
DCS' cost estimate came in response to a lawsuit filed in December by
The Tennessean and a coalition of media groups. Chancery Court Judge
Carol McCoy last month ordered DCS to turn over portions of the
children's file, and to submit any cost estimate for doing so. DCS filed
its cost estimate last week.
As part of its total charges, DCS noted that it would be asking for approximately $11,920.88 for transporting documents by hand
- which includes charges of $.47 per mile for more than 14,000 miles of
driving and $16.39 per hour to pay staff for 320 hours the agency said
would be required to hand-deliver files across the state.
these case files contain records and information that is confidential
under state and federal law, they must be hand-delivered to the Regional
Offices in order to protect the confidentiality and integrity of these
records," DCS attorneys wrote in the estimate submitted to the court
But DCS policies posted on the agency's website instruct staff to express mail case files.
such policy, called the "Formal File Review Process for Indicated Abuse
or Neglect Investigations," directs DCS investigators to express mail
files from the location of the investigation to the Nashville office for
"Forward via Express Mail, within fifteen (15) business
days, copies of all paper documentation in the entire investigative
file," the policy states. "If electronic documentation (i.e. audiotapes,
videotapes, photographs, etc.) is needed, summaries will be provided or
the electronic media will be reviewed where the original file resides."
A separate policy entitled "Due Process Rights and Reviews" instructs
child protective services investigators (noted as "CPS" in the policy)
to express mail records to the Special Investigation Unit ("SIU").
CPS Investigator will send the completed case record and any other
information regarding the investigation immediately by express mail to
the SIU staff," the policy states.
The policy goes on to say that
once the SIU staff has reviewed the files they can then be returned by
express mail, marked "Emergency Due Process," back to CPS staff.
an alleged perpetrator of abuse requests a review of DCS findings, the
policy again notes that DCS supervisors must "forward via Express Mail,
within fifteen (15) business days, mail or hand deliver a copy of the
entire investigative file, which will include all paper documentation
and electronic documentations (i.e. audiotapes, videotapes, photographs,
DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth acknowledged Tuesday that
these internal policies allow "a copy of the entire file" to be sent via
Sudderth said DCS officials determined that the DCS staff in the field should not be the ones to make copies.
Legal Counsel and Records Management determined in their response that
the field should not be making copies of these records for fear of
missing information that we are required to release, so it was
determined that the original case files were necessary to fulfill the
records request," she said via email.
Sudderth noted another DCS policy directs staff to avoid sending original records unless approved by legal staff.
"We avoid sending original records in the mail for fear that they may be lost."
filing suit, the media coalition asked the judge to redact confidential
information before providing photocopies of records. The coalition is
still considering a possible challenge to the agency's cost estimate.