Oklahoma Lawmakers Chide DHS

Monday, October 17th 2011, 10:01 pm
By: News On 6

Ashli Sims, News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There's new information suggesting Oklahoma's embattled child welfare agency made a mistake that masked problems at the agency.

News On 6 found out The Oklahoma Department of Human Services isn't improving as much as leaders have claimed. DHS has pointed to a recently released report as proof.

The agency claims in the report that its doing better and the federal class action lawsuit isn't necessary. It turns out some of the information in the report is wrong. And now two state lawmakers are demanding answers.

"Enough is enough. One dead child is too many," said Representative Mike Sanders, (R) Kingfisher.

State lawmakers are fired up after the suspected child abuse death of another Oklahoma City toddler. DHS checked on the family twice before the girl's death.

"We need to get some answers, maybe they have them, and maybe they don't. We need to get answers as to why these children are dying," said Representative Richard Morrissette, (D) Oklahoma City.

In another blow, DHS is now admitting the abuse and neglect rate of children in foster care is higher than previously publicized.

Late last year, the agency was touting the 2009 Child Maltreatment report. It found 99.8 percent of Oklahoma children were not mistreated in foster care. That's better than the national standard.

Now, an agency spokesperson admits a computer error led to false reporting. The agency says some cases had inadvertently been left out of the 2009 data. It explains when reports were run from the system; data was pulled from the wrong field.

DHS said:

"Our staff caught the mistake, identified the problem and have ensured it does not occur again. The mistake was honestly reported to the federal government when it was discovered and the data resubmitted to reflect the small number of cases that had been missed. After the federal government verified the data, they notified us in early March 2011 that the additional cases resulted in a new safety rating of 99.4 (a 4 tenths of a percentage drop). We subsequently have used the new and accurate rating in news releases. The error was also reported to the federal courts in a public filing in the Children's Rights case."

The agency has once again missed the federal benchmark.

"Let's not forget about the hundreds or even possibly thousands of cases in which children are being beaten, bones broken, lips busted, skulls cracked. These innocent children deserve better. Our state deserves better," Sanders said.

Nine commissioners oversee DHS and that's who these lawmakers want to talk to on Friday. Filings in the federal class action lawsuit criticized commissioners for not knowing enough about the problems at DHS.

"Have they met upon the deaths of these children to review and analyze their policies and procedures? I bet they haven't," Morrissette said.

DHS says no child death is ever acceptable to the agency.

"Anytime we can work with legislators to help improve those practices to keep children safer we are all for working with legislators to achieve that," said Sheree Powell, DHS Spokesperson.

Read The Full Statement

DHS says some of the blame should fall at lawmakers' feet. Budgets are down, and the head of the agency said last month they've implemented all the reforms that don't cost any money.

Lawmaker say DHS hasn't suffered the same cutbacks as other state agencies, and in 2009, DHS leaders got raises.

10/04/2011 Related Story: Despite Lawsuit, Deaths, Oklahoma DHS Director Says System Works