Overdue child welfare investigations in Oklahoma show dramatic increase

The number of overdue child welfare complaint investigations in Oklahoma soared by more than 45 percent in October — with 85 percent of the increase attributed to Oklahoma County.
BY RANDY ELLIS rellis@opubco.com Modified: December 10, 2010 at 5:03 am •  Published: December 10, 2010
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DHS Director Howard Hendrick said the 242 child welfare complaint investigations that are overdue in Oklahoma and Canadian counties represent a backlog of about two weeks.

When complaints are called into the hot line, they are either screened out or referred to a worker for assessment and investigation based on the severity of the complaint.

Workers are required to immediately investigate Priority I complaints that indicate a child is in imminent danger.

Workers are given two to 15 days to initiate investigations in Priority II cases in which the screener believes the child is not in imminent danger, but it is likely the child will not be safe in the future without intervention and safety measures.

Regional discrepancies

Statistics presented to the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services on Thursday reveal a huge discrepancy between regions of the state in the percentages of complaints that were screened out versus the number referred for investigation.

For example, only 35 of the 306 complaints (11.4 percent) received in the northwestern region of Oklahoma were screened out and the others were assigned for assessment and investigation.

But in the Oklahoma and Canadian counties region, 1,473 of the 2,061 complaints (71.5 percent) were screened out and only 588 were referred for investigation.

Youngblood said all the complaints come in on the same hot line and are screened by the same people using the same criteria, so there is no indication that Oklahoma County complaints are being inappropriately screened out because of workload problems.

“We feel like we have a good pool of people in Oklahoma County who will let us know if they suspect abuse or neglect,” he said. “We're hoping that's true across the state, but in some pockets it's not true.”

Youngblood said it is possible more duplicate calls are received in Oklahoma County, since it is more populous. Duplicate calls are screened out, along with calls that don't meet the criteria for classification as abuse or neglect.

DHS received 5,201 child abuse or neglect complaints in October. Records show 2,777 of those were screened out and 2,424 were referred for assessment or investigation.