Implementation of a plan to privatize parts of foster care and improve the welfare of children in state custody is well under way, Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told the Senate committee for DHS on Wednesday.
Lawmakers passed five bills last session that changed the organization, leadership, operation and transparency of the Department of Human Services, one of the state's largest agencies.
Many of the changes were promised by the state in a settlement agreement to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of ill-served foster care children in Oklahoma.
The settlement resulted in adoption of what has come to be known as The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan.
‘Got to stay focused'
“I don't want to give the false impression to anyone that we believe the Pinnacle Plan is going to solve all the problems overnight or in a couple years,” Treat said. “We've got to stay focused on this and never let our eyes off it, because the welfare of our children is one of the core functions that we serve as state government.”
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he requested the interim study to report back on how legislation has had an impact.
Some key updates:
• A request for proposals from private companies and nonprofits wishing to take over the state's recruitment, training and retention of foster parents should be ready within 30 days.
• Payments to a variety of foster care providers and parents increased on Aug. 1 and salaries for caseworkers were increased using in part a $25 million allocation by the Legislature.
• By Oct. 16, the entire department of child welfare will be realigned into five regions and 27 districts, a change called vertical realignment.
• By the end of this week, DHS must submit an accountability plan, including measurable data such as incidences of child abuse, retention of employees, employee workload or stability of child placement in homes.
Treat warned in the meeting that in the first reports he expects Oklahoma numbers to get worse, in large part because for the first time there will be a standard of measurement that will not let cases go unreported.
Deborah Smith, director of DHS Child Welfare Services, said that the agency is getting close to meeting goals of reducing the numbers of young children in shelters, a key requirement in the Pinnacle Plan.
She said that as of Wednesday there were 35 children in the Oklahoma City shelter and only one was under the age of 2. There were 65 children in the Tulsa shelter, but she said she didn't have numbers on how many were younger than 2 years old.
Treat said one of the bills passed by lawmakers last session depends on voter approval in the November general elections. Voters will decide on State Question 765, which would do away with the current commission overseeing the department. The measure replaces that commission with four advisory boards overseeing different missions of DHS.