House panel backs changes in Oklahoma child welfare

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: March 3, 2009 at 6:05 am •  Published: March 3, 2009
A House committee Monday unanimously passed a bill containing recommendations from an audit of the state Department of Human Services.

House Bill 1734 would implement several of the audit’s recommendations:

• Law enforcement should consult with DHS before removing a child.

• Establishing a program to allow information about a child’s physical and behavioral health and educational needs to be available electronically.

• Phasing out the use of public shelters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

• Setting up a centralized statewide hot line to take reports of abuse and neglect of children. This would replace three separate hot lines.

• Reorganizing department offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

The bill’s author, Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, said HB 1734 also would place more emphasis on in-home services for families.

Reduced use of state-run shelters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa should help save money, he said.

"This bill is still a work in progress,” said Peters, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services. "We know this audit will serve as a blueprint of changes we need in the department moving forward to ensure our children’s ongoing safety, both inside and outside their home.