Tulsa federal judge rules against Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Judge rules lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services can go forward as class-action case.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Modified: November 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm •  Published: November 15, 2011
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A federal judge Tuesday found there is “significant proof” the state Department of Human Services failed to adequately monitor the safety of foster children in its care.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell made the finding in an order that allows a lawsuit against the agency to continue as a class-action case.

A trial is set for February.

The judge specifically pointed to evidence that DHS commissioners failed in their oversight responsibilities and child-welfare workers have caseloads that are too high.

The judge noted that DHS' own expert “concluded that DHS does not accurately measure caseloads and that its caseloads exceed professionally accepted standards.”

The judge pointed to a DHS report that, in March, more than 1,200 children in out-of-home care had a primary caseworker whose caseload was more than 30 children.

More than 5,300 children in out-of-home care had a primary caseworker whose caseload was greater than 20 children, according to the DHS report. More than 3,000 children had a primary worker whose caseload was greater than 25 children.

“Extensive child welfare research links high caseloads to poor decision making, increased turnover and worse outcomes for children,” the judge wrote.

A class-action case

A New York-based advocacy group, Children's Rights, sued DHS officials in 2008 on behalf of nine foster children. The group alleges abused and neglected children actually end up getting harmed further in state foster care because of problems such as overcrowded shelters and poorly supervised foster homes.

The lawsuit in 2009 became a class-action case on behalf of all children in DHS custody because of abuse or neglect. The judge's ruling Tuesday came on a DHS request to reverse that decision.