Tulsa Foster Families: DHS Legal Process Taking Focus Away From Children
TULSA, Oklahoma - Oklahoma's Department of Human Services has been ordered to meet a higher set of standards.
The agency has been trying to fix problems exposed in a federal class action lawsuit, but a team keeping close watch said DHS is failing in a number of areas.
DHS got new marching orders in three areas: fix the lack of foster homes, high caseloads and the backlog in abuse investigations.
Foster families worry the legal process is taking the focus off of what is really at stake, the children.
11/17/2014 Related Story: Court-Appointed Experts Say Oklahoma DHS Still Failing Kids
There's never a dull moment at Chris and Emily Watson's house, and that's just the way they like it.
“We'd talked about trying to have more kids of our own, but we saw this as an option to expand our family and hopefully make a positive impact, too,” Chris said.
The couple is caring for seven children right now - three biological, four foster.
DHS certified them as foster parents last November, after a half year-application process.
“We had so many different people coming to collect the same information, ya know, it's like, I've already given my whole life story to the last person that came, what more do you need,” Chris said.
The wait was worth it for the Watsons, but could be one reason why finding families to foster has been challenging for DHS.
Foster mother, Nicole Deathrage, said many families drop out while waiting to be approved by the agency, but begs those in limbo to stick it out.
“There's a kid out there right now that's praying for a family just like yours and if you stop in the middle of the process, that child is gonna have to pray that much longer for a family just like yours,” she said.
Deathrage is who inspired the Watsons to foster in the first place. She's been welcoming displaced children into her home for six years, and she's watched as DHS works to regain the trust of Oklahomans.
“I think we're headed in the right direction, there's always room for improvement. These are our kids that we're talking about, these are our future, so there's always room for improvement, but the sad reality is, it's not getting better,” she said.
Her solution to fix the problems, she said it's time start putting the focus on the children and not pointing fingers.
“And at the end of the day, these kids need a safe and loving home to lay their heads down at night,” she said.
DHS said it will work to implement the specific processes and believes they be helpful in improving the system.
In a statement DHS said:
"DHS recognizes the importance of the objectives addressed in the remedial order and will work to implement these specific processes which we also believe will be helpful to our efforts. For almost two and a half years DHS has been working diligently to achieve progress with its Pinnacle Plan. The agency welcomes the experience and input of the Co-Neutrals and appreciates their guidance to help DHS progress in its efforts to recruit foster homes and reduce worker caseloads."