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Jim Henry officially DCS director

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Debra Payne will take over at state DIDD

By Cindy Simpson

Forget the interim part: After a short stint filling in, Kingston’s Jim Henry is now the commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced the full appointment Tuesday to the beleagured department.
Henry, the first commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, had also been serving as interim director of DCS since February’s resignation of former DCS commissioner Kate O’Day.
“I am honored to serve in this capacity with Gov. Haslam,” Henry said. “We have taken important steps  at DCS, and we will continue to strengthen our processes and policies as well as continue to improve the department as a whole.”
Henry has been a longtime advocate of those with disabilities, having firsthand experience with their problems because of his late son, John.
He found leaving Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities bittersweet, but said he has faith in his deputy commissioner, Debra Payne, who is being promoted to commissioner.
“I feel good about her taking over the reins,” Henry said.
The department was in the midst of becoming the first agency of its kind in the country to be nationally accredited by The Council on Quality and Leadership.
The department is also finishing up a 21-year-old  lawsuit which resulted in the closing of institutions where the disabled were inappropriately placed the last 75 years
“The best place for people to be is in the community,” Henry said. “We have less people in institutions now than almost anybody in the country.”
Henry said the Department of Children’s Services has many issues that need tackling.
“DCS is such a troubled agency,” he said. “We are doing the best we can to make a lot of changes quickly.”
The department was in the news because of the number of children who had died while being served by the state, and state officials refusal to disclose information on those cases.
Henry said he is focusing on three areas.
One is that children are safe, even if that means removing them from homes.
Second, “I want to be sure we have an emphasis on children’s health,” Henry said.
Last, he wants to find them a permanent home, whether that be returning them safely to their family home or to some other permanent situation.
“Every time you have to move a child, it is damaging,” Henry said.
“These two departments handle some of the state’s most difficult work concerning our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “I want to thank Debbie for taking on this new role in such a young department. Her experience and hard work will continue to serve the state of Tennessee very well.”
A press release from Haslam’s office said that as deputy commissioner Payne had overseen two development centers and a statewide community-based service delivery system supported by more than 2,000 employees, 475 community providers and three regional offices.