JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - The Tennessee Department of children's services reported 105 children died in 2011 and 2012 while in contact with them, but they originally miscalculated that number.
It's been an ongoing issue for nearly six-months, the Department of Children's Services were asked for the number of deaths in children they were in contact with in 2011 and 2012. When they released the figure, they said it was only 73.
We learned the number was miscounted and DCS later corrected it to 105 children. "My stomach just dropped to the floor. Wow. That's a high number of children," said Kellee Wilkerson.
Wilkerson said she wondered why it was so high. "It makes me wonder if they were ignoring some calls or it they were ignoring some warning signs," she said.
We met with the Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, Leslie Dalton, who works closely with DCS. She tells News 5 that in Washington, Greene and Unicoi Counties alone, there were 600 children in the court system last year, giving each caseworker roughly 20 to 30 children to oversee. "We know they are very overwhelmed and that's where CASA steps in to help," said Dalton.
CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, provides trained volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children.
We were able to get the numbers broken down for three of the counties in our area. In 2011 and 2012, there were three deaths from Washington County, three from Greene County and one from Unicoi County.
Dalton told us that even with the high number of deaths; it doesn't mean DCS is doing anything wrong. "It could have been an illness the child had, it could have been anything. You see that number but you can't say it was because they were in DCS custody cause that's not necessarily the case," said Dalton.
Dalton said DCS is always working to improve and in the mean time, her volunteers will be there to help make sure no child in northeast Tennessee falls through the cracks. "They spend time with the child in their environment, they go to the school and to their home to see them," said Dalton.
Wilkerson says she thinks spending more time with the children is what they need. "I do think knowing them personally and knowing the family makes a big impression on what's really going on," said Wilkerson.
Dalton said of the 600 children they helped last year, 200 were without a CASA worker.
If you would like to know how you can help volunteer with CASA, click here to visit their website.