The number of overdue child welfare complaint investigations in Oklahoma soared by more than 45 percent in October â€” with 85 percent of the increase attributed to Oklahoma County.
â€œI'm very concerned about this,â€ said Marq Youngblood, chief operating officer for the Department of Human Services. â€œI will certainly be involved in turning this around.â€
Records show that in October there were 542 referrals in which state child welfare workers failed to meet a 60-day agency deadline for completing and documenting their initial investigations into child abuse and neglect complaints.
That's an increase of 170 over the 372 investigations that were overdue the previous month.
Documents show 242 of October's overdue investigations were in a region consisting of Oklahoma and Canadian counties.
Youngblood said a recent high turnover rate is mostly to blame for the problem in Oklahoma County, but corrective disciplinary actions and extended medical leave for some employees also have contributed.
Oklahoma County recently experienced a major restructuring that included a consolidation of offices and change in leadership, he said.
Some child welfare workers left the agency and that put additional stresses on other workers, some of whom also quit.
â€œA number of changes have happened in this county,â€ Youngblood said. â€œI am in no way blaming any of these changes for this outcome.â€
There are 68 authorized child protective services positions in Oklahoma County and 51 of those positions are filled, said Beth Scott, an agency
Scott said the agency is in the process of finalizing the hiring of six workers and the other 11 positions should be filled within 90 days.
When workers are on leave or out because of disciplinary actions, the agency can use paid overtime or shift workers from other units or counties to pick up the slack, she said.
â€œWhat we're trying to do now is get ahead of the staffing issue,â€ Youngblood said.
It is difficult to gauge the impact DHS staffing problems may be having on the state's ability to protect the safety of children in homes where abuse and neglect have been reported.
Youngblood said when he has delved into particular cases, he has seen that child welfare workers have been in the homes and taken action when necessary to protect children, but just haven't taken the time yet to document the work they have done. In those cases, the risk has not really increased, he said.