Department Overview

The Department is responsible for administering numerous services throughout Tennessee, including Families First, the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Food Stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), Child Support, Child Care Licensing, Child Care Assistance, Adult Protective Services, and Rehabilitation Services. With 133 office locations, DHS is one of the few state agencies with offices in all 95 counties.

Organizational Chart 

Program Descriptions 

History of the Department

When Tennessee became a state in 1796, the administration of “poor relief” became a county duty and was placed in a court system which extended into the most remote sections of each county. In 1827, new legislation allowed the counties to establish almshouses to provide for the poor and any other persons who could not care for themselves because of disability or incompetence.

In 1925, the Welfare Division in the state Department of Institutions was created. The Tennessee State Relief Administration was organized in 1933 and later changed into the Tennessee Welfare Commission. It further evolved into the Department of Institutions and Public Welfare and then the Department of Public Welfare. In May 1975, the agency’s name changed to the Department of Human Services.  That same year, the federal government mandated that each state operate a child support program under the Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.  In 1977 the Tennessee General Assembly passed enabling legislation designating the Department of Human Services as the agency responsible for administering the program.

The department grew even larger in 1983 when the Division of Rehabilitation Services and its vocational rehabilitation programs moved from the Department of Education to the Department of Human Services.  In September 1996, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, created through the Social Security Act of 1935, was replaced with a new federal welfare reform program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

In June 2000, a comprehensive Child Care Reform Bill was signed into law. Aimed at improving the health and safety of children and the quality of child care programs, reforms include lower adult/child ratios at child care centers and mandatory criminal background checks for operators, employees, and others involved with facilities. These efforts and other measures undertaken in subsequent years to further improve child care quality have resulted in national recognition for the overall quality of the state’s licensed child care system. 

Department of Human Services Historical Timeline (PDF)