Friday, January 6, 2012

OKDHS reaches settlement on foster care suit

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Late Wednesday, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services commission reached a settlement agreement with Children's Rights, a group that filed a class action lawsuit in 2008 alleging OKDHS did not do enough to protect Oklahoma's foster care children from abuse and neglect.

The monetary terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed. However, DHS agreed to meet standards in fifteen areas. Among those standards, documentation of alleged abuse and neglect, number of available foster homes, number of times children can be placed in different foster homes, and the number of cases welfare workers can carry.

The agreement would dissolve in four years provided DHS meets the requirements fully for two consecutive years prior.

DHS has already spent close to $7 million fighting the lawsuit.

The agency says it will have a working plan in the next 55 days.

“We are all committed to continuous quality improvement and we have consistently identified and made improvements. We will continue to make improvements even after compliance with the future plan has been completed,” said OKDHS director Howard Hendrick. “The strengths and list of child welfare achievements are many, including an adoption rate that is more than twice the national average per capita over the last five years. Nevertheless, we need to recruit and expand the number of non-kinship homes for children coming into foster care. We need a broader array of therapeutic homes for children experiencing trauma and dealing with behavioral challenges. We also want to reimburse foster parents at better rates for their dedication to caring for Oklahoma’s abused and neglected children.

“Some of these improvements, particularly those involving recruitment and retention of child welfare workers and foster parents, will require additional state dollars," said Hendrick. "We will need the support of the Governor, the legislature, and the judicial system to commit the resources needed to ensure that Oklahoma’s child welfare system can meet these demands.”

"Now the real work begins," said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "The legislature must be involved in this planning process and I'm pleased it will be. DHS belongs to the public and serves the public, so it is critical for the public's representatives to have meaningful input."


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