FROM the time it was filed and for the longest time after, Department of Human Services Director Howard Hendrick showed no inclination to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged flawed practices put children in DHS care at risk. As recently as May of this year, as the lawsuit progressed, Hendrick noted that the plaintiff had “consistently been critical of all child protective agencies and has a well-established history of filing class-action lawsuits around the country.” Indeed Children's Rights, Inc., a New York-based nonprofit, has filed at least 15 lawsuits in states across the country since 1995. Many of those states entered into expensive consent decrees, something Hendrick was adamant wouldn't happen while he was head of DHS. But something changed in the past several months. Reporting revealed breakdowns in the foster care system, particularly in cases that ended with the deaths of children. That was compounded by evidence of a disengaged governing board, the Human Services Commission, with members who knew little about important child welfare data and seemed not to care all that much about it, preferring instead to leave that sort of thing to agency staff. The board members' indifference was seen in depositions they gave to attorneys for Children's Rights. Subsequently some members of the Legislature demanded answers from commissioners about their work. Gov. Mary Fallin named two new members to the commission and assigned one of them to take over as chairman. The board approved formation of a new committee that will review child deaths that have occurred in recent years. And this week the Human Services Commission agreed to settle the lawsuit, and Hendrick concurred with the decision. Details of the proposed settlement, which must be approved by the governor, House speaker and Senate leader, haven't been released but Hendrick said the framework is different than what is normally seen in such cases, and will produce improvements that will benefit at-risk children and their families. We were critical of the lawsuit when it was filed in 2008, concerned that the significant amounts of money and time dedicated to defending the lawsuit would be better used helping DHS clients. And it has been expensive — the agency's legal tab is in the $7 million range. The costs will grow if, as expected, the state must pay plaintiffs' fees (if that happens, taxpayers deserve to know the amount). The lawsuit helped shine some light on an agency that has too often been slow to respond to criticism, and the Human Services Commission is now a more active and engaged group. So it may be that the lawsuit winds up being a net positive. Time will tell. The settlement, if approved, stanches the legal spending for now and, as Commissioner Wes Lane said, it “gives us some real opportunities to take a look at some things and make them better.” That's most important of all.