DHS staff as foster parents: Criminal pasts and privacy

By Randy Ellis Modified: August 26, 2007 at 6:29 am •  Published: August 26, 2007
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nn referred questions to DHS's communications office, which also refused to comment.

The Oklahoman did obtain a copy of DHS Area IV Director Bill Wilson's response to Rainwater's complaint.

Wilson told Rainwater that officials in DHS's state office were made aware of Shannan Humphrey's criminal history and "approved this placement request.”

He said the case was being worked out of Creek County, instead of Okfuskee County, to avoid conflict of interest concerns.

"Other reasons placement approval was requested from state office included that Okfuskee County has limited foster care resources for older teens, the fact that the 17-year-old really wanted to graduate from his own high school, there were no other options, and that we believe Ms. Humphrey and her family could provide for this child,” Wilson wrote.

Custody battle
In another case, Nina Owens Hunter, 41, of Atoka claims she has been treated unfairly in her efforts to get her three boys back because their foster mom, Deborah Cathey, worked for DHS.

One of the boys, 5-year-old Trinton Hunter, was seriously hurt March 15 when he was backed over by a sport utility vehicle driven by his foster father, Terry Cathey, at the foster family's home northeast of Shawnee.

The boy has recovered well, Deborah Cathey said.

In a letter pleading for help, Hunter wrote she lost custody of her children more than two years ago because of a substance abuse problem, but has cleaned up her act and completed her treatment plan.

She claims Deborah Cathey is now using ties with DHS to prevent her from being reunited with her children.

"I believe the children would have already been returned if not for her powerful influence and her status with DHS,” Hunter wrote. "Deborah Cathey should have not ever been allowed to foster children due to her position with the state/DHS. CONFLICT OF INTEREST-BIG TIME! This should have been recognized as a problem long before now.”

Hunter wrote the Catheys filed for Social Security survivors benefits on her children after the boys' natural father died.

Foster parents are entitled to file for Social Security survivors benefits, and those payments sometimes exceed the foster care payments they would otherwise receive, a DHS spokesman said.

"One of the very last things my late husband said to me before he died was that "them people are trying to steal are kids,” Hunter wrote.

Abiding by policy
Deborah Cathey said she would "like to comment, but I don't think I better ... because of confidentiality and stuff.”

She said she had left her job at DHS before she initially became a foster parent, rejoined the agency after they were in her care and left the agency again May 15 so she would be in a better position to care for the children.

She said she sought and obtained special permission to continue keeping the foster children during the time she was with the agency.

"I can tell you we're not doing anything that's not abiding by DHS policy,” she said.