TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s services is facing a shortage of homes leading to children bouncing between DCS offices and temporary placement across the region.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 9,113 children in the care of DCS. More than a 10th of those cases come from the Tri-Cities region alone. However, according to DCS, there are only 434 foster homes in the Tri-Cities area. The lack of homes is due in part to the pandemic.

“It was this perfect storm of foster parents closing their homes because they were scared and I get that,” said Rhonda Paulson, Isaiah 117 House founder. “Not training new foster people for a lot of that year and then tried to do it virtually, which wasn’t as successful.”

Temporary placement homes like Isaiah 117 are limited by capacity and state guidelines.

“The state suggested that we not mingle cases except in certain situations for the safety of everyone,” said Paulson. “The state originally had said they wanted them to be there 24 hours or less. We have pushed and gotten that extended to about three days.”

Like many industries, DCS remains short-staffed, meaning those who are working are often working long hours.

“The truth is that this is not a DCS problem, it’s a community problem as well,” said Carren Broadnax, DCS resource linkage coordinator. “We want the community to be aware that we’re asking for help in all shapes, forms and fashions so that we can see that our children remain healthy and thriving and that we get them safely back homes back to their homes where possible.”

Hawkins County Juvenile Court Judge Daniel Boyd said they are having to make decisions based on the availability of housing.

“There are some children that probably should be based upon maybe to address behavior issues or some other things, but they stay in the home because of the unavailability of placements,” said Boyd.

More support for DCS staff is something Paulson said she’d like to see.

“We have to do something about the staffing shortage,” said Paulson. “And I do believe that our caseworkers need to make more, and they deserve more.”

Boyd said there needs to be more funding coming from the state.

“They need to start really looking into providing DCS some additional funds and services and the ability to obtain services,” Boyd said.

According to Boyd, on average there are 80 children in the care of DCS in Hawkins County at any given time. He said the majority of removals are due to drug exposure.

DCS is working to find more homes and dispel rumors about who can foster children.

“We do allow for individuals to foster it seems to be one of the myths that we’d like to try to put out,” said Broadnax. “We have a lot of single individuals who foster In fact, just as our children come from all walks of life, we’re also looking for all individuals who kind of fit those dynamics so that we can pair and match kids at a better rate.”

Broadnax said they look for family members to help foster and are looking for ways to help provide more support to those who are willing.

“We identify some of the relatives who maybe don’t want to go through the full course of the kinship process,” said Broadnax. “Through the Relative Caregiver Program in the coming year, we’ll be able to help provide some financial support to stabilize some family units and give us a better opportunity of placing kids with families who may not necessarily have the greatest income of support.”

Their goal is to keep children in their own communities to provide a level of stability, according to Broadnax.

“If you’ve ever thought ‘I want to be a foster parent,’ now’s the time,” said Paulson. “If you’ve ever thought ‘I’d like to volunteer with Isaiah 117,’ now’s the time. If you have a history of working with teenagers, we need you now.”

There are a variety of ways that Broadnax says the community can help address the issue, including becoming certified volunteers and donating to DCS Amazon Wish Lists.

For those interested in assisting DCS or Isaiah 117, follow the links below.

Tennessee Alliance for Kids

TN Fosters Hope

TN Department of Children’s Services

Isaiah 117 House