© Copyright 2012, The Oklahoman
DHS officials intend to recruit hundreds of new foster parents so the agency can place younger children in its care in family-like settings instead of at the shelters.
Those are the highlights in a draft of a five-year plan the Oklahoma Department of Human Services came up with to improve its child welfare operations.
Officials made the plan public Friday at the state Capitol. Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman made brief remarks.
DHS officials are calling the improvements “The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan.”
The Oklahoman obtained a draft Thursday.
“OKDHS staff is working within their current environmental and budgetary limits, as well as influencing these limits to move in a positive, evolutionary direction over time,” the draft states.
“A critical breakthrough will occur as OKDHS changes, improves and evolves from an agency constantly criticized and under attack to one praised and recognized for the continued focus on the children, youth and families it serves.”
DHS commissioners agreed to make improvements when they voted to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by a New York-based child advocacy group. The agency submitted the plan on Friday to three neutral outside experts.
The experts can accept or reject the plan. If the plan is rejected, DHS can modify and resubmit it. The experts could come up with their own plan if they reject the DHS plan a second time.
Years of scrutiny
DHS has faced intense public and legislative scrutiny over the years, particularly after children in its care were killed.
The advocacy group, Children's Rights, alleged in its 2008 federal lawsuit that DHS policies and practices are so bad that neglected and abused children are being harmed or at risk of harm at state shelters and foster homes.
In the draft of the plan, DHS acknowledges shortcomings in its current operations.
“Too many case-specific decisions are currently made at higher levels of the agency,” the draft states.
“These decisions need to be moved down to staff who work more closely with children and families.”
The agency reported in the draft that many have described the high turnover of its child welfare staff “as a crisis.”
“Turnover has improved at times, but over the past year, it has been at a critical level,” the draft states.
DHS reported in the draft that child welfare specialists who quit complained of “unreasonable work demands, low pay, low morale and a negative image of the agency as reasons for leaving.”
“Many report they would consider returning ... if these working conditions changed,” the draft states.
About the plan