Okfuskee County child-welfare worker Tracey Humphrey was summoned by a Department of Human Services supervisor in 2004 because of a complaint that she had punched a woman in the face at a Little League game. Her husband, Shannan Humphrey, pleaded no contest in Denton, Texas, in 2001 to a charge of beating his former father-in-law. Despite those incidents, DHS administrators promoted Tracey Humphrey to the position of child-welfare supervisor, authorized the couple to become foster parents and placed a 17-year-old foster child in their care, documents reveal. "We had to go through the same steps that any other foster parents went through,” Tracey Humphrey told The Oklahoman. "It wasn't that I punched a lady. She punched my husband.” Concerning her husband's plea, she said, "That was involving him and his wife when they were divorcing and he met with his father-in-law to fight.” She referred further questions to DHS spokesman George Johnson. The spokesman said no information about the Humphreys' situation could be released to the public. In an October e-mail to DHS's inspector general, former Okfuskee County supervisor Marilyn Rainwater questioned the placement of a child with Shannan and Tracey Humphrey. Rainwater mentioned that Shannan Humphrey had a Texas conviction for assault and family violence and that Tracey Humphrey "got into a physical altercation with a woman.” She wrote. "Even if DHS policy now permits under some circumstances for child-welfare staff to be paid foster parents for DHS custody children, it doesn't look good in an office this small for that to occur. There are only four workers in the county and it wouldn't be possible for Mrs. Humphrey to not know all the details of the court case. Plus, the court and law enforcement are all aware of her husband's criminal background as well as her own temperamental behavior.” Contacted by The Oklahoman, Rainwater said Tracey Humphrey admitted after her altercation that she hit the woman for making disrespectful remarks about her husband. "She told me out of her own mouth, ‘I'll have to admit I threw the first punch and bloodied her nose,'” Rainwater said. Rainwater said a witness told her that Tracey Humphrey had a baby on her hip when the scuffle began. Rainwater wasn't the only one who expressed concern about the altercation. In a June 25, 2004, e-mail to Tracey Humphrey, DHS Okfuskee County Director Debra Winn wrote that she had received an anonymous call. "The caller stated that she had been at a Little League ball game on Thursday evening and that she witnessed you getting into a fight with another mother,” Winn wrote. "She stated that you were using foul language in front of the children and that you punched the other woman in the face and it was hard enough that it caused her to bleed. The workman stated that she was concerned because you were a child-welfare worker and should be an advocate for children and should not behave in that manner. May I please get your side of the situation?” Contacted by The Oklahoman , Winn refused to discuss the situation. Winn 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 battleIn 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 policyDeborah 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.