State lawmakers have set a special hearing on Dec. 19 to examine progress at the Department of Children's Services before the legislature formally reconvenes in January.

"The public is rightfully concerned about children in state custody and how we can best address their needs, whether it be with improved technology for case managers or better tools for law enforcement," said Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney, who requested the hearing . Finney represents Madison, Crockett, Dyer, Lake and Lauderdale Counties. "This update is critical to the legislature's efforts to keep children safe and healthy."

DCS Commissioner Jim Henry last addressed these lawmakers in March.

The agency has been under intense scrutiny for more than a year over a variety of problems that included repeatedly giving out incorrect information on the number of children who had died after being reported to the agency for abuse and neglect.

Child advocates and law enforcement officials criticized caseworkers' handling of severe child abuse. A child abuse hotline dropped calls. More than 70 executive level staffers were fired., And the agency's computer system failed to perform required functions, including tracking children in its care and paying foster parents. The agency also refused to release records of children who died, and media groups led by The Tennessean filed suit, ultimately winning access to those records.

The controversies led to the resignation of former DCS Commissioner Kate O'Day on Feb. 5, a day before she was to testify before lawmakers about the agency's problems. Appointed immediately by Gov. Bill Haslam, Henry has served as the agency's head since.

Henry has reported improvements, including a revamped effort to assess the causes behind child deaths, hiring more caseworkers and improving their training, fixing glitches in the computer system, and improving the hotline, among others. Last month, he also agreed to routinely provide the public with DCS records on children who died after being reported to the agency at no cost and without a legal fight.

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