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Gubernatorial candidates focus on Oklahoma's child abuse problems

Gubernatorial candidates Mary Fallin and Jari Askins suggest changes to reduce child abuse deaths.
BY RANDY ELLIS Modified: October 17, 2010 at 12:51 am •  Published: October 17, 2010

Askins said "I'm not sure," when asked whether a leadership change was needed at DHS.

"Right now, I would tell you I know that the Department of Human Services needs more resources placed in strategic programs," she said. "Until those resources are provided, I'm not sure it matters who is at the top because they are going to have difficulty."

Fallin responded, "Leadership begins first and foremost with the governor."

"I intend to be a governor who will not accept the status quo, not accept mediocre services and who will demand efficiency and accountability from our government agencies," the Republican candidate said.

Candidates open to privatizing

Askins and Fallin are open to privatizing at least a portion of the state's foster care system by getting local churches and nonprofit groups involved in the placement of children.

"I think everything is on the table when it comes to taking care of our children and making sure that they are safe," Askins said. "I would want to be able to look at what other states are doing well to keep their rates low for children in foster care. What good points of those other programs could we adopt?"

Fallin said the government can't solve the problem alone.

"I certainly think local churches and nonprofits should play a role in caring for abused and neglected children," Fallin said. "Faith-based initiatives have already proven to be enormously successful when it comes to the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction; there is no reason they should not play a bigger role in combating child abuse."

Fallin said there are things DHS can do, such as improving employee training and making sure child abuse complaints are investigated and don't slip through the cracks.

"The problem is bigger than DHS," she said. "Child abuse and crime, in general, are linked to poverty, substance abuse and lack of education. There is no silver bullet that will solve these problems overnight. With that said, getting our economy back on track — my number one priority as governor — would go a long way. Supporting drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation programs and reducing the high school dropout rate will also both play a role in reducing child abuse."

Askins said solving the problems is critical.

"I'm running for governor because I really believe that the future of Oklahoma lies in how we take care of our children," Askins said. "That includes their health, their education and their safety. Until we resolve issues in all of those areas, I think it is difficult for Oklahoma to have the kind of economic growth that we want."