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Oklahoma plaintiffs cite DHS ‘disarray’

BY RANDY ELLIS Modified: December 5, 2008 at 12:13 am •  Published: December 5, 2008
TULSA — Nine Oklahoma foster children were bounced around among 176 primary caseworkers because of "severe disarray” within DHS, attorneys said in documents filed Thursday in Tulsa federal court.

The state Department of Human Services also had 125 secondary workers and 190 supervisors overseeing care of those children, documents reveal.

"I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marcia Lowry, executive director of a New York-based child advocacy group that is suing DHS over care it provides to foster children. "The number is particularly significant when you realize that six of these children have been in state custody for less than three years, and three of them are less than 2 years old.”

"When you have this many workers and supervisors managing children’s cases, in essence, you have no one managing them at all,” she said.

There is no excuse for Oklahoma moving foster children around among caseworkers and foster homes like it does because it is extremely damaging to children, she said.

Don Bingham, a private attorney who is helping represent DHS in the case, said he and his colleagues are looking into why these children experienced so many changes in their primary caseworkers.

Bingham said he wouldn’t attach much significance to the number of secondary workers involved in a case because they don’t necessarily have direct contact with a child or the child’s biological or foster family. Such workers may just have performed some clerical task, he said.

Children’s Rights is behind an ongoing Tulsa federal court lawsuit filed in February that alleges DHS has violated the constitutional rights of Oklahoma foster children by failing to give them proper care and treatment and failing to provide them with safe and adequate living conditions.

Attorneys associated with the group represent nine children in the lawsuit but are seeking class action status to represent all children in DHS custody.


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