(WVLT)- Nearly half of the parent advocates for foster families in Tennessee have been let go.
The reason? The Department of Children's Services (DCS) tells Local 8 News it's because of conflict of interest.
These advocates were contracted by the Tennessee Community Services Agency (TNCSA), for the DCS.
They service as a voice for foster parents and helped them with questions or issues, inside and out of the courtroom.
Now half of those advocates are gone, some say without notice.
Kristi Dodson has been an DCS Foster Parent Advocate for more than a decade, she's served several counties in East Tennessee, not because of the small stipend she gets a month but because she grew up a foster child and wants to help others.
"I am devastated, I'm heartbroken, this has been my passion for thirteen years," says Dodson.
On Tuesday, she tells us the TNCSA shut her phone off without warning.
"I was totally blind-sided by this, I am the longest running advocate there is," she says.
Kristi and 5 other advocates are gone. The TNCSA tells Local 8 News it's because the group started another resource group and it was a conflict of interest.
That group is called Tennessee Association of Resource Parents (TARP.)
"Yesterday, (Tuesday) was our launch date for our new association. By the end of the day, our cell phones had been turned off, our computer access blocked, we can't access our files, email, everything was shut off with no warning from TNCSA or from DCS," says Robert Rutherford, another advocate who had been dismissed.
TNCSA says the advocates signed a wavier when they started, saying any conflict of interest would mean termination.
"I feel like what has been done to us is very shady," says Dodson, "and it is nothing we would ever imagine doing to anybody else."
"It's loosing the ability to work with foster parents that we've worked so close with for such a long period of time," says Rutherford.
"I had an investigation that was supposed occur this afternoon (Tuesday) with a foster family I've worked with for quite some time. We had to cancel that investigation because they don't feel comfortable going in there without me," he says.
Foster parents, like Elizabeth Ford, are worried about what will happen next.
"It stinks," she says, "I don't know what this is going to mean for the kids in the foster care system right now. I mean, I know there's so many families that have kids in their homes and it concerns me? what's going to happen with these kids?"
DCS says this should not affect their services, they plan on replacing those 6 advocates.