Oklahoma has the second-highest per capita rate nationally for removing children from their homes and placing them in state care, initial audit information shows.
Independent auditors of the Family Services Division of the state Department of Human Services told state lawmakers Tuesday the reason for the high rate, second only to Nebraska, may be that Oklahoma’s definitions of abuse and neglect are broad. Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, chairman of the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ Human Services Committee, leads the bipartisan task force that asked for the audit. He said when the final audit report comes out at the end of the year, lawmakers from the task force will propose legislation to address the issues noted by the auditors. Another issue that will be addressed in the audit’s final report is the different policies in DHS offices throughout the state, including the roles judges and district attorneys play in the agency’s cases. Different conditions prevail in different DHS offices, according to the auditors’ progress report. "There is an assumption that DHS controls its destiny,” said Helaine Hornby, lead auditor. "It really isn’t true. Other entities determine it.” Employee salaries are also among the issues the final report will address, Hornby said. "There are child-welfare workers who actually qualify for food stamps in this agency,” she said. Hornby Zeller Associates, the auditing firm, will be paid $420,000 for the audit by the state House. A story in The Oklahoman on Wednesday reported the wrong amount.