Lawmaker questions who is holding DCS accountable - WFXG FOX54 Augusta - Your News One Hour Earlier

Lawmaker questions who is holding DCS accountable

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

One state lawmaker is raising serious questions about who's holding the Department of Children Services accountable after the deaths of two Smyrna toddlers.

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, has called for an outside investigation into how DCS handled the case. But, she said that's a challenge now because the department doesn't have as much oversight as they once did.

DCS said that's not the case, they are still monitored by an outside set of eyes.

As you may remember, this all became an issue last year when Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey disbanded the legislative committee that oversaw DCS.

Since then, Jones says the department has slipped and she questions whether or not the agency could have done more to protect two children who recently died after police say they were left in a hot car by their mother.

Savanna and Daniel died earlier this month after they were trapped in a hot car. Their mother, Samantha Harper, has been charged with their deaths. According to investigators, she told police she left them in the car and went back inside to sleep.

The Channel 4 I-Team uncovered DCS had investigated their mother before. In fact, according to a September 2011 LaVergne police report, the agency was alerted the toddlers may have been in danger nearly a year before they died.

DCS said legally they can't tell us what their findings were or whether they took any action.

Now, the agency is once again involved, this time they're doing their own investigation into how the case was handled.

Jones said when there was a full-time legislative oversight committee, the select committee on children and youth, DCS was forced to come before lawmakers to answer all their questions. Even though that committee no longer exists, DCS's Executive Director of Child Safety Carla Aaron said they are still held accountable by several outside agencies.

As for the deaths of Savanna and Daniel, DCS said they can't go into the details of that investigation other than to say it's ongoing, and they expect to have their findings by October 1.

DCS said there still is a legislative committee that looks at how they handle cases. It's called the Second Look Committee. But, they don't look at every case. It's only a random sampling.

We also called Ramsey about this story, his communications director Adam Kleinheider gave us this statement:

"Oversight is a critically important function of the legislature and has been improved by putting oversight authority in the more accountable standing committees. What the legislature removed last session was a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy that cost taxpayers over a million dollars a year, not the commitment to oversight. Oversight remains a mission of the legislature's standing committees."

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