Governor Bill Haslam today announced that embattled Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Commissioner Kate O’Day has resigned from her post.
“Kate has informed me that she felt the time was right to step down,” Governor Haslam said. “She was concerned that she had become more of a focus than the children the department serves. I appreciate Kate’s service to this administration and to our state. She has done a lot of good work in identifying longstanding problems that have hampered the department, and we will build on those efforts as we move forward.
There had been criticism about a reduction of oversight over DCS and a call from some legislators for the release of records related to the alleged abuse and death of children under DCS care. Commissioner O'Day had been summoned to testify before a state committee on Wednesday.
Commissioner O’Day joined the Haslam administration in January 2011. Prior to that, she served as president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Tennessee in Knoxville. She began her career as a youth counselor with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida and later served as vice president of program development and evaluation for Children’s Home Society of Florida and director of program services for Covenant House of Florida.
The governor has named Commissioner Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), to serve as interim commissioner of DCS.
“I am grateful to Jim for agreeing to take on this interim role,” Governor Haslam continued. “He has significant experience both in the private and public sectors and has devoted the better part of his life to caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Jim Henry is the first commissioner of DIDD, which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on January 15, 2011. Before joining the Haslam administration, he served as president and chief executive officer of Omni Visions, Inc, a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. A Vietnam veteran and former mayor of Kingston, he spent 12 years as a state representative and six of those years as minority leader.
He will continue to serve as commissioner of DIDD during his interim role of leading DCS. The governor will immediately begin a search for a new commissioner of DCS, it was stated.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said, “As a former chairman of the now-abolished Select Committee on Children and Youth, I saw the Republicans eliminate that legislative oversight which protected Tennessee’s children. Far too many children have suffered and died, and it’s past time for Republicans to prove they’re pro-life after birth by protecting Tennessee’s children.”
He said DCS has been sued by The Tennessean, the Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 151 children who died between January 2009 and July 2012 and had been the subject of state investigations of abuse or neglect.