The first pay increase goes into effect Aug. 1.
DHS settled suit
“This is an exciting time of great reform at DHS,” said Wes Lane, chairman of the commission that oversees DHS policies. “Rarely before in state history have we seen so many people all pulling the same wagon in the same direction.”
DHS commissioners agreed to make the reforms to the agency's child welfare operations when they voted in January to settle a federal class-action lawsuit.
The agreement came at a time DHS was under considerable legislative and public scrutiny because of the deaths of children in its care.
Under the terms of the settlement, the three neutral outside experts are being paid to review the plan and monitor its implementation.
If they had rejected the DHS plan, the experts could have appointed someone else to come up with a plan or they could have written one themselves.
The federal lawsuit was brought by a New York City-based child advocacy group known as Children's Rights. It sued DHS officials in 2008 in federal court in Tulsa. The group sued on behalf of the state's foster children.
The group alleged in the lawsuit that DHS policies and practices were so bad that neglected and abused children were being harmed or were at risk of harm at state shelters and foster homes.
In a statement Wednesday, Children's Rights said, “Given the considerable impact this will have on Oklahoma's abused and neglected children, it is gratifying to see the settlement agreement begin to come to fruition.”
DHS Interim Director Preston Doerflinger said Wednesday that the agency has begun working already with the experts “on performance targets and baselines which will measure our successful implementation of this plan as we move forward.”
State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said, “It's clear to anyone who reviews the plan that this is not an attempt at a political quick fix. This is a complex, long-term solution that will make a meaningful, transformational difference for Oklahoma's at-risk children.”
Nelson led a four-member House of Representatives panel that spent months studying DHS by talking with hundreds of agency workers, parents, judges and others who work with the agency.