NO one said it would be easy to implement the changes required at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services as the result of a class-action lawsuit settlement. And that's certainly proving to be the case.
An out-of-state group filed the lawsuit over the state's foster care program, alleging among other things that far too many kids were removed from homes and that children were mistreated. The state settled the lawsuit in 2012. As part of the settlement, the state approved a reform plan that touches on 15 areas of DHS.
Called the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan, it seeks to do such things as reduce caseloads for workers, increase the number of foster families and child welfare workers, and eliminate the use of state shelters for young abused and neglected children.
But it's clear Oklahoma has a long way to go.
At a meeting Wednesday of four new DHS citizen advisory panels — these groups, approved by a vote of the people, replaced the former DHS oversight board — the agency's child welfare services director, Deborah Smith, shared disappointing news.
The number of children in state custody stands at 10,428, as compared with roughly 8,000 four years ago. Smith said that growth contributed to DHS not meeting its goal of, by Dec. 31 of last year, eliminating the use of state shelters for kids younger than 2. Instead, 47 children in that age range spent at least one night in shelters during the first six months of this year.
The census growth also has hurt efforts to reduce caseloads for DHS employees. Smith said only about one-fifth of workers have caseloads that are within the range agreed upon as part of the lawsuit settlement. To meet its target, DHS must get that figure to 45 percent by year end.