Oklahoma DHS To Settle Class Action Lawsuit Wednesday

The state's three-year legal battle over Oklahoma's embattled child welfare agency could come to an end Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 27th 2011, 9:25 pm

By: News On 6

The state's three-year legal battle over Oklahoma's embattled child welfare agency could come to an end Wednesday.

The commission overseeing the Department of Human Services agreed last week to settle the federal class action lawsuit. But it's not a done deal yet.

12/21/2011 Related Story: Oklahoma's DHS To Settle Class Action Lawsuit

The governor and the state's top lawmakers will meet Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to accept the settlement proposal. Right now, the details of that settlement are confidential. But based on similar lawsuit, DHS could be in for a multi-million dollar renovation.

"Many of the other states that have experience in this kind of litigation really have quite an expensive fix," said Howard Henrick, DHS Director.

Oklahoma is one of 14 states sued by child advocacy group Children's Rights. The federal class action lawsuit was filed back in 2008, claiming children in state custody were in danger, because the system wasn't doing enough to protect them.

The state has spent millions fighting it. With the trial just two months away and a judge denying the state's last two efforts to get the case thrown out, DHS is now considering settling the suit.

According to Children's Right's website, their lawsuits have led to $2 billion in additional funding for child welfare systems.

Tennessee, D.C., New Jersey, and Mississippi were all sued, all ended up settling and all have seen dramatic increases in funding. Tennessee's child welfare budget ballooned by $161 million over six years.

In D.C. it increased by more than $140 million over the last decade. In New Jersey, child welfare dollars were up by nearly $340 million in three years. In Mississippi, it's up more than $42 million in the last four years.

Children's Rights says this isn't just about the money. They claim these states have safer, better systems, with drastically reduced foster care populations, more adoptions, and lower case loads for child welfare workers.

So far, the details of Oklahoma's settlement are confidential, but Director Hendrick did say "the terms are unique in this kind of litigation," calling it a "new approach to resolving class action civil rights claims."

Again, the settlement is not a done deal. It still needs approval from the Governor, Senate Pro Tem, and the Speaker of the House. They're scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon.

News on Six will keep you updated on what they decide.


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