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Oklahoma DHS Commission votes to settle lawsuit

Oklahoma DHS commissioners met through the evening Tuesday discussing a proposed settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit over care of children.
BY NOLAN CLAY AND RANDY ELLIS Published: December 21, 2011

DHS commissioners voted 6-3 Tuesday night to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that accused the state agency of failing children in its care.

The vote came after DHS commissioners met in a closed-door executive session for five hours. The terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed.

The settlement still must be voted on by the state Contingency Review Board, which consists of the governor, state House speaker and the state Senate president pro tempore. The settlement will require the Department of Human Services to change how it deals with children in foster homes, group homes and state shelters.

“It gives us some real opportunities to take a look at some things and make them better,” new Commissioner Wes Lane said. “I think that's good. I think that's what the public wants. I think that's what DHS wants.”

A New York-based advocacy group sued in 2008 to force the DHS to make improvements in its care of children. The group, Children's Rights, is suing on behalf of more than 8,000 children in DHS care.

The group has alleged DHS policies and practices are so flawed that neglected and abused children actually are being harmed or are at risk of harm in state care.

A trial was set to begin in Tulsa in February, but negotiations have been under way for weeks on a settlement.

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