Share “Oklahoma Department of Human Services...”

Oklahoma Department of Human Services commission forms committee to look into child deaths

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services Commission on Tuesday formed a committee to look into deaths of children and adults in DHS care.
BY RANDY ELLIS AND NOLAN CLAY Published: September 28, 2011

Young, who had been the lone black commission member, said he believes minorities have an important point of view to bring to the agency which helps the poor and disadvantaged.

Asked about Young's comments, Fallin's communications director, Alex Weintz, responded: “Governor Fallin's priority is to appoint the most qualified applicants to fill these and other positions. It's worth noting that she has only had the opportunity to appoint two DHS commissioners at this point in her administration.”

Difficult time

Lane and Yarbrough are joining DHS at a difficult time for the agency.

Hendrick announced Tuesday that the agency provided assistance to a record 622,911 people under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly called the food stamp program) in August as the national economy continues to struggle.

That represents an increase of more than 8,800 from the previous month. About a third of Oklahoma children now receive such assistance, he said.

Commissioners on Tuesday also received a report from Casey Family Programs.

The private foundation has been studying DHS policies and training related to implementing a new “imminent safety threat” standard established by the Legislature in 2009 as the criteria to be used in determining when children should be removed from dangerous homes.

Casey representatives Page Walley and Sue Steib generally gave DHS policies high marks but said some workers they interviewed raised concerns that high turnover and caseloads were limiting the agency's effectiveness.

“Safety plans are only as good as their monitoring and ours are not always monitored well,” the organization's report quoted a worker as saying.

“Several interviewees, especially those in the Oklahoma City area, pointed to high turnover as a concerning factor when questioned about staff skills and capacity,” the report said.

“It was also suggested that more follow through is needed in studying situations of serious child injuries and child deaths and using findings to inform policy and training for all child welfare staff,” the report said.

”Currently, according to interviewee reports, these incidents are investigated, but there is not a clearly defined and implemented process for using the learning from the investigation to inform changes in training and/or policy.”

High risk factors

Steib told commissioners that some workers said they needed clarification on what to do in situations where there is not an imminent safety threat, but where there are high risk factors present that could lead to future problems. Workers want to know the agency's responsibility for providing services and possibly seeking court intervention in those cases, she said.

Workers said the new safety standard also has increased the time needed to work cases properly, she said.

Asked about turnover, Hendrick said, “It's not significantly different than other states for better or worse. We actually have about 70 percent of our staff who have more than two years of experience in child welfare. There's a significant number of the work force that's been there quite a while. They know their work and they're doing it very well.”

“I think there are a lot of things that are going right and we just have to continue to improve what we're doing,” he said.

Budget request

The commission also adopted a Fiscal Year 2013 budget request that seeks about $192.7 million more in state funds than the current fiscal year.

That would bring the total requested state appropriation up to about $707.2 million and the agency's total budget (including federal funds) up to about $2.47 billion.

Hendrick said the agency doesn't expect to get nearly that amount, but the budget represents how commissioners perceive the agency's needs.