DHS has obtained a temporary license to open a second children's shelter in Oklahoma City as its existing shelter continues to operate at near capacity.
The new license was issued at a time when DHS is under intense pressure to reduce or eliminate its use of shelters for abused or neglected children — particularly babies.
There were 42 children at the Pauline E. Mayer shelter Friday, just six under capacity, said Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Of the 42 children at Pauline E. Mayer on Friday, seven were ages 2 and under, and 12 were ages 3 through 5, Powell said. The other children were teens or preteens.
To cope with potential overflow, DHS sought and obtained a temporary 45-day license from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth on Aug. 31. The license authorizes the agency to operate a second shelter that could house up to 16 children ages 5 and under, said Lisa Smith, director of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.
DHS officials settled a federal court lawsuit in January by agreeing to develop and abide by a reform plan that calls for the agency to eliminate the use of shelters for abused and neglected babies under age 2 by Dec. 31 and eliminate the use of shelters for children 6 and younger by June 30. Instead of shelters, DHS will be required to place children in family-like settings.
Powell said DHS officials remain committed to those goals.
Although opening a second shelter might sound like a step backward, Powell said the agency has been making some progress.
When The Oklahoman looked into the shelter's operations last February, reporters found the facility had frequently exceeded its licensed capacity and that some babies were being kept for lengthy stays, including one baby who had been there 66 days at the time of the visit.
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“It's a constant stream of children coming into the system, which also means it is a constant effort on our part to find more foster homes.”