The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services announced pay raises for foster parents and child welfare employees Tuesday as it began implementing initial phases of a massive agency reform plan.
“It's not just about money,” said Deborah Smith, director of DHS Child Welfare Services. “We appreciate those foster parents who have stepped up and provided safe, loving homes for so many children in Oklahoma. We still need 500 additional foster families and we are committed to improving the experience of new foster parents. The rate increase is just one of the new initiatives we plan to implement to improve our response to people interested in fostering and to improve our services.”
DHS commissioners and administrators are moving quickly to install changes within the agency — even as they wait for a panel of three out-of-state experts to approve the agency's overall reform plan, dubbed the Pinnacle Plan.
The out-of-state experts were brought in to oversee the state's child welfare reform efforts as part of a settlement agreement to resolve a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged children were being harmed in state care. The oversight panel is expected to announce by the end of the week whether Oklahoma's reform plan has been accepted or rejected.
Not waiting for that decision, commissioners Tuesday voted to increase the monthly pay for traditional foster parents effective Aug. 1.
The amount of the increase will range from $38.48 to $41.78 a month, depending on the age of the child.
Therapeutic foster care parents, who care for more troubled children, will see their rates change from $16.63 a day to $17.97 a day.
Contracted foster care agencies will have their rates increase from $39 a day to $40.40 a day.
The agencies use the money to recruit, support and pay foster care parents, as well as pay overhead costs.
Pay rates for adoptive parents also will go up, since they are tied to pay rates for foster parents, Smith said.
Foster parents previously had only received two pay raises in 30 years, with the total amount of those increases only $1.50 a day, commissioners were told.
The raises approved Tuesday are the first of what Oklahoma DHS officials hope will be five annual pay increases designed to assist in the recruitment and retention of foster parents by raising their pay to an amount that is closer to the amount needed to properly care for a child.
The agency hopes to recruit 500 new traditional foster families by the end of the first fiscal year so it can stop using its often overcrowded shelters to care for the youngest abused and neglected children. Commissioners were told the agency made progress toward its goal in the recently completed fiscal year when the total number of foster homes in the state increased from 1,210 to 1,322.
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With more than 8,000 children in the Oklahoma foster care system, it's vitally important we recruit more foster families and ensure those families have the means to support foster children.”
Gov. Mary Fallin