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Oklahoma Department of Human Services director defends agency, commissioners

Howard Hendrick said agency doing a lot of right things.
BY NOLAN CLAY Modified: September 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm •  Published: September 21, 2011

The longtime DHS director on Tuesday defended his often-criticized agency and the commissioners who oversee it.

“We have a lot of things that are going right,” Director Howard H. Hendrick told The Oklahoman.

Hendrick said “what keeps me going” is the difference his employees make in the lives of vulnerable people. “The reason why I stay is, primarily, because we have a lot of good people who make this work worthwhile,” he said. “And, that's really what I'm motivated by.”

But, asked how much longer he wanted to hang on to his job, he said, “I don't know.”

The Department of Human Services has come under intense scrutiny since a young girl, Serenity Deal, died from a beating in June.

Serenity, 5, died less than a month after she was placed with her father at the recommendation of DHS workers. The father, Sean Devon Brooks, has been charged with first-degree murder. DHS officials say the workers on her case violated policies, particularly in failing to fully check into the father's background.

Panel comes under fire

The nine-member DHS commission has been widely criticized. One commissioner, Steven Dow, called the group “just asleep at the wheel.” Earlier this month, Gov. Mary Fallin spoke of an “appearance of lax oversight” when she named two new commissioners.

Commissioners have faced criticism for their refusal to discuss at public meetings the deaths of Serenity and other children in DHS care.

Also, testimony in an ongoing lawsuit revealed many commissioners never read or only skimmed a $420,000 audit state legislators had done to help the agency reform its child-welfare services.

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