CHILD welfare advocates have been begging for years for wholesale changes at the state Department of Human Services. Some of those changes are coming fast. Others will take time. Balancing patience with a righteous sense of urgency to get help for our state's most vulnerable children will be a continuing challenge.
Oklahomans have responded — as we knew they would — to the call to help our state's children. The state is in desperate need of more foster homes. As The Oklahoman's Randy Ellis detailed in a recent report, an uptick in the number of families willing to take in foster children has exacerbated a backlog in the approval process.
Ellis found that DHS is facing a four- to six-month backlog in conducting home studies that are required before foster children can be placed in a home. Meantime, many of those children — including babies — are housed in overcrowded shelters.
The backlog also creates issues for foster families who are due payments to help finance the cost of caring for the children. That's a roadblock for some families who want to participate in the program but need financial help.
We beg those families to be patient for a while longer.
Brad Yarbrough, chairman of the DHS oversight commission, called last week on agency employees to conduct business with a customer service attitude. He rightly emphasized that community members and groups wanting to help must be met with a welcoming attitude. This hasn't always been the case in the past.
“There is no room in this agency for mediocrity,” interim agency director Preston Doerflinger said. “The mission of this agency is too critical to have people who do not want to perform at the very highest level every day.”
Doerflinger said employees are warm to the idea of improved customer service. But the culture of an agency so large, complex and literally spread all over the state won't come easily or quickly enough.
Oklahomans should not let that get in the way of reaching out to help. Kudos are due to Oklahomans who have answered the call to serve as foster parents and those interested in pursuing adoptions. More such families are desperately needed, but the road is rough. DHS must make certain that it's a facilitator, not a roadblock.
We're especially grateful to those attorneys who have volunteered through Oklahoma Lawyers for Children to help ease the backlog of home studies required of foster home applicants. The studies are a complicated process; shortcuts aren't an option.
Many of the issues plaguing DHS are systemic. Quick fixes aren't fixes at all; they're just a mask. Oklahoma children need a system that's tightly controlled but also flexible enough to realize that every child's situation is different. That's a tall order — one that will require more people than ever before to engage while exercising an abundance of patience as the agency and its dedicated employees work to do better by children and families.