Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday the resignation of Department of Children’s Services Director Kate O’Day, who had become embattled over her department’s declining to release records pertaining to child deaths across the state.
O’Day, who joined Haslam’s administration in January 2011, is scheduled to appear before a Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. In recent months, her agency’s refusal to disclose case records for numerous child deaths has been challenged in court by more than 12 news media organizations, including The Tennessean and The Associated Press.
The publications are seeking case records of 150 children who died after cases by the agency had been opened.
In a news release, Haslam said O’Day had informed him she felt “the time was right” to step down. Haslam offered appreciation for her year heading the state’s child welfare agency.
“She was concerned that she had become more of a focus than the children the department serves,” Haslam said. “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.”
Haslam, who had previously expressed support for the embattled organization, announced last month he would appoint a senior adviser from his office to conduct an analysis on DCS operations. During recent court hearings, lawyers for DCS told a federal judge they were not 100 percent certain how many children had died while in agency custody over the past few years, according to a Memphis Commercial Appeal report.
It was revealed that nine more children died in 2011 and 2012 than the agency initially reported. The department declined to reveal any detailed information in the cases.
In the past two years, at least six groups that once monitored the work of DCS have been eliminated, according to an Associated Press report. Among the entities cut was the Children’s Program Outcome Review Team.
Haslam also announced Tuesday he had named Jim Henry, commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to serve as O’Day’s interim replacement. He will continue to serve as DIDD commissioner during his interim role at DCS.
Haslam said he will immediately begin a search for a new DCS commissioner.