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Federal Judge Approves Oklahoma DHS Lawsuit Settlement

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Oklahoma Department of Human Services Oklahoma Department of Human Services
Wednesday was also DHS Director Howard Hendrick's last day on the job. Wednesday was also DHS Director Howard Hendrick's last day on the job.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

A three-year legal battle came to an end Wednesday afternoon in a courtroom at the Tulsa Federal courthouse.

A federal judge approved a settlement between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and a child advocacy group, Children's Rights.

Earlier this year, DHS decided to settle the lawsuit out of court.

1/4/2012 Related Story: DHS Commission Approves Modified Settlement Agreement

This lawsuit has cost Oklahoma more than $6 million over the last three years and this settlement sidesteps the federal trial that was supposed to have started in February.

A settlement that both sides say is "fair."

"I think it's the right thing to do. We feel strongly about it because it's a very unique settlement," said DHS Director Howard Hendrick.

"It's too bad that it took four years of very aggressive expensive litigation to get to a point that everyone in the courtroom acknowledged we needed to get to," said Children's Rights Director Marcia Lowry.

The root argument was if DHS was putting kids in harm's way. Too many cases and not enough safe homes. The agreement calls for DHS to meet certain standards and outcomes.

A panel of three child welfare experts from outside the state--called co-neutrals--will make sure DHS meets its goals over the next four years.

A plan is already being worked on down in Oklahoma City to help DHS meet the necessary changes. The organizational plan must be done and approved by the co-neutrals by March 30th.

"So long as they are showing good faith efforts. Trending in right direction, it's a good outcome for the state and they can exit in December of 2016," said Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Both sides say the changes were agreed upon at arms length and were hard bargained. But worth it because of the eight-thousand kids in the system.

Marcia Lowry with Children's Rights says we should start to see structural changes in the next six months. She says the DHS won't be a perfect system by then, but we will see improvements. 

Wednesday was also DHS Director Howard Hendrick's last day on the job. Hendrick says he was not asked to step down or retire.

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