Thought Leader’s Insights: Michael H. Leach, Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services

FC2S Staff | September 16th, 2013

Welcome to a new series on Foster Care to Success’s blog called “Thought Leader’s Insights,” where experts in the social work and foster care fields discuss trends, successes, experiences and thoughts on foster care. The first blog post in the series is by Michael H. Leach, the director of independent living for the state of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services. Thank you, Michael, for sharing the experiences from your department. Readers, if you would like to participate in the series, please contact FC2S communications manager Jenny Hughes at 

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services provides Chafee Foster Care Independent Living Program services through the Office of Independent Living.  As a part of the federal mandate, this division has built a network of appropriate supports and services for youth transitioning out of care and those who are likely to remain in care.

A significant step forward in Tennessee’s ability to expand services for young adults ages 18 to 21 occurred when policies and procedures to implement Extension of Foster Care Services went into effect July 1, 2012. We have been through one full fiscal year and are satisfied with our implementation.

In Tennessee we’ve seen great examples of our youth beating the odds utilizing two scholarship programs available to them through DCS: the federally funded Education and Training Voucher (ETV), and the state funded Bright Futures scholarship. During the past academic year, Tennessee DCS assisted 269 youth with Education and Training Vouchers, and 127 youth with the Bright Futures scholarship. These youth attended post-secondary academic or vocational programs.

DCS has the opportunity to improve the outcomes by fully promoting youth engagement in case planning and decision-making and creating strategies to improve outcomes of transitioning youth. To help youth plan for the future, a  focus must be made within the department to ask questions like:

  • What can we do to help prepare this youth to be successful after 18?
  • What skills does this youth need now to have to be successful after 18?
  • Who are the young person’s caring adults? What roles do they have?
  • Are our young people actively participating in their own planning and service provision?
  • What are the plans for our 14-16 year olds? What strengths do they have and what can we help them build?

The Post Custody and Extension of Foster Care data for FY12 and FY13, outlined below:

Total served Post Custody FY2011-12: 459

Of the 459, still receiving services effective July 1, 2012: 183

Total served in EFCS FY2012-13: 566

Of the 566, still receiving services effective July 1, 2013: 253

  • Total Aged Out FY12 and Received EFCS During FY12: 27%
  • Delinquent: 3%
  • Dependent/Neglect: 24%
  • Unruly: 4%
  • Total Aged Out FY13 and Received EFCS During FY13: 39%
  • Delinquent: 4%
  • Dependent/Neglect: 33%
  • Unruly: 2%

Just a few stories of youth success:- 

  1. “_____ spent several years in the foster care system as a young child. She defeated a lot of odds against her and completed her high school education in May 2012. After high school, _____ decided that she wanted to attend MTSU. She just completed her first year and was able to end the term with a 3.6 GPA. _____will be starting her second year at MTSU in the fall with 31 credit hours completed. Her major is BSN Pre-Nursing, and she plans on moving into her own apartment then. _____ understands that if this living arrangement is not conducive to her educational goals that she will return to living in the dormitory. _____has always wanted to become a nurse and has stated that she will not allow anything to deter her from that dream. _____ has also been able to maintain employment at a local restaurant for more than a year. When school is out in the summer she works at the Jackson location and when school is in session she transfer back to the Murfreesboro location. She works part-time as she does not want to hinder her educational goals. _____ has been able to save a substantial amount of money as she takes her budget very seriously and only spends on what is absolutely necessary. She wishes to purchase her own vehicle soon. _____ also participates with Youth Villages TL Services and literally takes advantage of all of her resources including her advisor at school. Youth Villages reports that _____ is a joy to work with, and we are very proud of her accomplishments and her attitude that goes along with it.”
  2.  “_____ was adjudicated in Lauderdale County under a juvenile justice court order. After running away several times in her placement, something finally clicked for her and from that moment, she has been moving forward. After she obtained her GED, _____ decided that she wanted to pursue cosmetology school and took advantage of the educational services that DCS had to offer. She moved from Lauderdale County and was able to secure her own housing in Madison County. She completed her program at The Hair Design School in 2012 while working part-time jobs as a supervisor for two different janitorial services. When the position of Peer Mentor for Madison County became available, _____ was referred and hired. _____ has done such an outstanding job that she is now covering three counties. She receives accolades from the board members as she is able to fully engage with the youth and help them voice their concerns. Just recently she was able to identify a potential safety concern for one of our Extension Youth that needs to be addressed. ._____ has now decided that she would like to further her education and attend college to pursue a degree in social work. Finally, _____ and her high school sweet heart were married on March 26, 2013.”
  3. ________graduated from TN School of Beauty, studied for and took the practical for her  cosmetology license, and now is going back to school to get her aesthetics certification she also was made a student instructor at Aveda Institute after only a short time there

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