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Jim Henry knows what causes plight of many children

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Newborn babies, hospital records reveal, often are delivered exposed to drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.

It is not uncommon for children to be in homes where methamphetamine labs are in operation.

General Sessions Court Judge Jeff Wicks and I also serve as juvenile court judges. We grant as many as four emergency juvenile petitions each week wherein the court order results in the removal of a child or children from their parents.

A hearing, designed for the protection of parents’ rights, is scheduled within 72 hours of the filing of the petition and imposes the burden on the petitioner to establish probable cause for the emergency removal.

If a parent desires to be represented by an attorney, but does not have the means of hiring one, on their request, an attorney is appointed to represent that parent. Usually a separate attorney is appointed for each parent and a third is appointed to represent the child or children.

Sometimes those hearings are postponed or continued because the parents cannot be located or, maybe because of outstanding criminal warrants, do not wish to be located.

The petitions often allege situations of physical abuse, abandonment or neglect from the parents’ use of illegal drugs or misuse of prescribed drugs.

Often, the petitioner is the Department of Children’s Services, which, in the past year, has endured criticism for some decisions regarding placement of children after removal in some counties across the state.

Often, the decision was the placement of the child back with a parent or other custodian, providing, in some instances, a second chance but resulting in greater harm to the child. Some incidences of greater harm were the result of drug abuse by the person with whom placement was made.

In his effort to improve the effectiveness of the Department of Children’s Services, in May Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Jim Henry as interim commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services.

He has since been promoted to commissioner.

Henry, a Roane County resident and a former Kingston mayor, was the first commissioner of the Department of Intellectually and Developmental Disabilities, where he served for two years. He also served as state representative for Roane County for 12 years and six of those as minority leader, often advocating on behalf of children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Henry did not seek out the appointment but was the governor’s choice.

Recently, at the conference in Knoxville for juvenile and family court judges, I had the honor to introduce Henry, whose statements at our conference addressed his new role and responsibilities and past actions of DCS.

He also placed the blame exactly where it should lie — the use, misuse, and addiction of drugs in our communities without regard to the safety and well-being of children.

Jim, you did not seek nor need this position. You answered our governor’s request because he thought you were the best man for the job, as do Judge Wicks and myself.

Congratulations and thank you.

Dennis Humphrey
General Sessions Court Judge