Despite new leadership and a series of reforms, the state Department of Human Services still is having some of the same old problems with its employees, records show.
More than 125 DHS employees were fired, suspended without pay or demoted last year, the agency's disciplinary records show.
Child welfare specialists were disciplined for falsifying investigations, embezzlement, neglect of duty, sleeping on the job and, in one instance, picking up the wrong baby from a day care.
“DHS faces the same challenges as any large company in that we will always have a few employees at any given time who are being disciplined for any number of reasons,” DHS Director Ed Lake told The Oklahoman.
Lake, who was hired in October 2012, said the disciplinary actions “demonstrate we do not tolerate these behaviors and we hold our employees to a very high standard.”
“We want a highly skilled, professional, compassionate and trustworthy workforce in DHS. I can say with confidence that the majority of our 7,100 employees exhibit those qualities on a daily basis. When employees violate our trust, intentionally disobey policy or are abusive to the people we serve, we will not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary actions,” Lake said.
DHS put itself back in the public spotlight last week when it revealed it has started steps to fire two employees over the 2013 death of a special-needs child, Quinten Wood.
An older sister said DHS failed to respond appropriately to her concerns that Wood, 15, was being neglected. She said she called DHS 22 times to check on Wood. Lake said the two employees “clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices.”
DHS will not identify the two employees until the firings are final. An Oklahoma City police detective is investigating the workers to see if there was any criminal wrongdoing.
The disciplinary records for the last year show other instances where children were endangered by employee misconduct.
A child abuse hotline worker was fired in May after failing to immediately act on a report that a newborn was in imminent danger, the records show.
“The parents of this newborn have had their parental rights terminated due to serious abuse/neglect of previous children,” the worker was told in a May 14 dismissal letter. “Due to your failure in following hotline protocol ... child welfare staff was unable to locate the newborn. At this time, the whereabouts of the newborn remain unknown and he remains in danger of serious child abuse and neglect.”