Oklahoma Leaders Announce Plans To Improve DHS, Child Welfare

Friday, March 30th 2012, 11:57 am

Oklahoma's governor and other leaders announced a seven-point plan to improve the state's care of endangered children by making changes to its child welfare system.

The Pinnacle Plan is part of a settlement agreement reached earlier this year in a class action lawsuit against the Department of Human Services.

Read The Pinnacle Plan

"The state of Oklahoma is committed to making a good faith effort to carrying out this plan," Governor Mary Fallin told assembled members of the media Friday morning.

"Each of us is committed to making sure this plan succeeds."

Fallin said DHS will have clearer rules, better communication and more accountability. 

2/29/2012 Related Story: Federal Judge Approves Oklahoma DHS Lawsuit Settlement

The biggest component of the plan is better supervision of children and foster families. DHS plans to hire 100 more child welfare workers this year.

They plan to recruit more foster families so fewer children go into shelters. DHS needs 500 new foster families just to take care of children under the age of 6 in state custody.

"The recruitment and retention of foster families is the thing we think is so critical to this plan and the state of Oklahoma," said Terry White, Former DHS Interim Director.

At the capitol, where everything comes down to the budget - paying for the new plan will likely involve saving money somewhere else within DHS.

"Those resources may also be able to be applied to this effort," said DHS Interim Director Preston Doerflinger.

The plan created by the state has to be approved by a neutral third party - that's part of the settlement of the lawsuit. If they approve, the next step is to put the plan in motion - and get the legislature to come up with the money."

Representative Jason Nelson helped develop the plan, but says the state doesn't have all the money needed to get it started.

"I'm fairly confident not that whole amount, simply because we don't have it," Nelson said.

But state leaders say they're committed to change despite the cost - now estimated to be $100 million dollars a year beyond what DHS spends now.

The state will ramp up the effort and expense over 5 years. The first priority is hiring an outside firm to recruit new foster families - ultimately they'll be paid more as well to encourage more people to take in neglected children.