Assistance sought to ease DHS home study backlog
A four- to six-month backlog in completing home studies is causing payment delays and forcing some abused and neglected children in Oklahoma to linger in state shelters while waiting for foster home placements. Volunteers are being sought to help process the backlog.
Some Oklahoma foster parents have been waiting months to get paid.
Other Oklahomans — who would like to be foster parents for children in state custody — have been waiting as long as six months for their paperwork to be gathered and processed.
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Meanwhile, small children continue to wait in state shelters.
These are the consequences of a four- to six-month backlog by the state Department of Human Services in completing home studies.
“It just boils down to a system that has been overwhelmed by the demand,” said Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman.
Disclosure of the backlog comes at a critical time for DHS officials.
A proposed state child welfare reform plan announced three weeks ago calls for recruiting 1,000 new foster families while eliminating the use of shelters for children younger than 13 years old by June 30, 2014.
But having more Oklahomans step forward to become foster families won't resolve the shelter problem unless officials are able to complete the home studies required for children to be placed in those homes.
Quick help is needed, Powell said.
“Oklahoma Lawyers for Children has stepped up,” Powell said. “They are offering to recruit, train and monitor volunteers who will collect all the documents and information from potential foster parents and do the initial walk-throughs and assessments of the homes ... These are the kinds of public-private partnerships we need.”
Oklahoma Lawyers for Children is looking for volunteers, said Tsinena Thompson, executive director of the organization that was created to provide legal services to abused, neglected and deprived children in Oklahoma County. A training session is scheduled for Wednesday.
“While we always need more foster parents, if someone isn't in a position to do that, they could volunteer a few hours a week to help get the home studies processed much quicker,” Powell said. “It's a great option for college students, as well.”
Work by the volunteers will supplement home studies by DHS employees, as well as placement agencies that do contract work for DHS, Powell said.
A home study typically takes 20-25 hours of work to complete, depending on how organized the families are with their documentation, Powell said.
A study consists of more than just checking out the cleanliness of a home and doing a criminal-background check on household members, Powell and Thompson said.
Copies of marriage licenses, divorce decrees, social security cards, drivers' licenses, insurance verification forms and shot records for pets are among the documents that must be collected.
Children can't be placed in traditional foster homes until home studies and 27 hours of foster parent training have been completed. As a result, abused and neglected children are being kept in state shelters while Oklahomans who have volunteered to be foster parents wait as long as six months for approval.
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