The number of abused and neglected children in state custody has jumped from 10,233 to 10,729 since July 1, outpacing DHS officials' ability to find new foster homes and forcing more children into already overcrowded state shelters.
The influx of children has placed a strain on state shelters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Deborah Smith, DHS' director of child welfare services, told members of a Department of Human Services citizens advisory panel Tuesday.
“The trend has been at capacity or over capacity,” Smith said, adding that for the past couple of weeks state officials have been forced to move some children from the Oklahoma City shelter to Whitefields, an emergency backup private shelter in Piedmont, to relieve overcrowding.
Southeastern Oklahoma has been responsible for the majority of the influx of children in state custody, she said.
The number of children removed from homes in that part of the state has increased by about 400, or 23 percent, Smith said.
“We don't know the reason,” she said. “If you ask the workers, they'll say it's due to drug use and domestic violence.”
However, Smith noted the agency has gone through a massive reorganization and has a lot of new child welfare workers and supervisors, so a lot of factors could be contributing to the increase.
The influx comes at a difficult time for the agency, which is under pressure to get children out of state shelters and into foster homes as part of a settlement to a federal class-action lawsuit concerning the alleged maltreatment of children in state custody.