The phasing in of Oklahoma's child welfare reform initiatives would be accelerated from five years to three years under a revised proposal submitted Thursday to out-of-state experts overseeing the reform process.
“There are no initiatives that begin in years four and five in the updated version,” said Deborah Smith, director of DHS's family services division.
DHS administrators and members of the three-person oversight panel agree on the urgency of making improvements as quickly as possible, Smith said.
After the oversight panel withheld its endorsement of the original proposal, additional discussions were held and DHS officials agreed to “be more bold” in their time frames and attempt to “accomplish things faster,” Smith said.
The revised plan contains a lot more details about how DHS intends to accomplish its goals, she said.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Smith said.
Part of settlement
DHS was required to develop a child welfare reform plan as part of a settlement agreement announced last January. The settlement resolved a federal class-action lawsuit over the alleged maltreatment of abused and neglected children in state custody.
Part of the settlement involved the creation of the panel of three national experts who have the authority to accept or reject the state's reform plan and establish one of their own. A decision is expected within 45 days.
“We hope this becomes the final version,” Smith said. “We are ready for an approved plan so we can begin implementation.”
Getting abused and neglected children out of state shelters remains a priority.
The original reform plan called for eliminating the use of shelters for children younger than 6 years old by June 30, 2013, and eliminating their use for children younger than 13 by June 30, 2014. Instead, familylike settings, such as foster homes, would be required.