Oklahoma Department of Human Services meets goal to eliminate shelter use for babies

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has achieved its first major reform goal of the new year by eliminating the use of state shelters for overnight stays of nearly all abused and neglected children under age 2, officials announced Wednesday.
by Randy Ellis Modified: January 8, 2013 at 9:16 am •  Published: January 2, 2013

The rule prohibiting overnight stays for children under 2 applies to entities the agency contracts with to provide shelter services as well as state operated shelters, Powell said.

Exceptions to the rule are allowed for medically fragile children requiring 24-hour supervision, large sibling groups of four or more and teen moms with infants, DHS officials said.

Even in those cases, DHS tries to get the young children out of shelters as quickly as possible, Powell said.

Powell said Tuesday night there was only one child under age 2 in a state licensed or contracted shelter. That child was part of a large sibling group staying in a county youth shelter. The children were being placed in a home the next day, she said.

Keeping siblings together remains a goal of the agency and officials believe taking a little extra time when necessary to avoid splitting siblings is worth the trade-off, she indicated.

The next major milestone for the agency in reducing shelter usage comes June 30 when the agency is committed to ensuring that no child under age 6 spends a night in a shelter.

Under the Pinnacle Plan, the agency also has made a commitment to recruit at least 2,000 new foster families between July 1, 2012, and June 30. That would be about 500 more than were recruited the previous fiscal year.

The agency had recruited 930 new foster families by Tuesday, the midpoint of the fiscal year. That is ahead of the pace of last fiscal year but behind the pace needed to achieve the plan's goal.

Powell said individuals interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents can find out more information by visiting the website www.okbridgefamilies.com.

The Oklahoman focused attention on the problem of babies in state shelters last February when it published a series of articles and pictures revealing the plight of babies in public shelters and quoting experts who described the developmental harm being done to those children.

Numerous Oklahomans responded by contacting DHS and offering to become foster parents.

DHS officials responded, too, stepping up their recruitment of foster parents and agreeing to incremental steps that would be taken as part of the Pinnacle Plan to eliminate the use of shelters for the overnight care of abused and neglected children.

The plan is a five-year improvement plan designed to reform the state's child welfare system.

Other goals DHS has already achieved under the plan include increasing reimbursement rates for foster parents, increasing salaries for child welfare workers and restructuring the Child Welfare Division.


by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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