NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in Tennessee is struggling mightily.

“It is no secret that DCS has struggled to hire and retain staff,” Commissioner Margie Quin said.

Governor Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) and his budget staff heard from several departments in his annual budget hearings Thursday, and one of them was DCS.

The department talked about a myriad of issues it’s facing, including salary for its Wilder Youth Development Center officers. The center aims to help youth delinquency.

“Currently, the salary start is $27,000 for these officers,” Quin said.

For comparison, in Tennessee, most shift manager positions at Taco Bell run from $13 to $16 per hour. That’s about $27,000 to $33,000 per year.

DCS has been a topic of discussion ever since a judge told state lawmakers back in August that the department was ‘near collapse,’ and state lawmakers said in October they had heard ‘calls of desperation.’

“DCS does not have the funds to pay a competitive rate to get our kids in the provider placement beds,” Quin said. “So, kids are in offices or transitional houses, while the majority of the beds go to out-of-state children or private pay.”

Staffing continues to be a huge issue.

“Tell me where we are, in terms of where we need to be, in terms of case managers,” Lee asked.

“We have about 486 openings right now in the department to be fully staffed,” Quin responded.

Many of the staffing issues are stemming from first-year case managers. DCS numbers show the department has lost nearly half of all first-year case managers in the 2023 fiscal year.

“Part of our budget ask is going to be an increase in salary to try and stem the tide of that 47% turnover rate in the first year,” Quin said.

The department is asking for over $150 million this year – that’s more than double last year’s total of about $73 million.