Child under 2 was wrongly put in state shelter, Oklahoma Department of Human Services official says

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services had agreed to place nearly all babies and 1-year-olds in its care in family-like settings after Dec. 31. Changes in procedures have been made to prevent a similar error from occurring, a DHS official said.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: January 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm •  Published: January 24, 2013
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A child under the age of 2 ended up being placed in a Department of Human Services shelter less than two weeks after an improvement plan's Dec. 31 deadline to place nearly all babies and 1-year-olds in its care in family-like settings.

The child, along with two siblings, was placed in the shelter on a Friday and stayed four days until DHS supervisors were told of the situation on the following Monday and found a foster home, Deborah Smith, director of the agency's child welfare services, said Tuesday.

The foster home had been available that Friday, she said, but the child welfare worker and the supervisor handling the case were unaware. The child and the two siblings were taken from a metropolitan county to a rural shelter about three hours away.

“We had a glitch,” Smith said.

Child welfare workers and supervisors since have been told to let her and others know when they are having problems finding a foster home and they will all pitch in and work to find one, Smith said.

“If they haven't been successful by a certain time that day, then everybody gets on and then you're able to expand … and you start being able to pull in more resources,” she said. “Where they've called 10 foster homes, if you get five more people working on it you can call 50 foster homes. You're going to be more successful the more people you have engaged in trying to find the right family.”

DHS child welfare workers may still use a shelter if they believe that's the best place for the child, Smith said.

“I haven't seen one yet,” Smith said. “We want to leave it open so that people don't make a bad decision, either.”

Eliminating the use of state shelters for overnight stays of nearly all abused and neglected children under age 2 was the first major change implemented by the agency that was recommended in the Pinnacle Plan, a five-year improvement plan intended to reform the state's child welfare system.

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We should have worked harder.”

Deborah Smith,
director of DHS child welfare services

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