Oklahoma Foster Children Sue DHS, Claim They Weren’t Protected
DELAWARE COUNTY, Oklahoma - Editor's note: After News On 6 posted this story, DHS told us it stopped placing foster children in the home in 2006. However, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against DHS in this case says DHS may be arguing a technicality, but says he won't know for sure until DHS turns over more documents.
Nine Oklahoma foster children are suing the Department of Human Services, saying the agency failed to protect them.
Charged with multiple counts of child abuse and neglect are the former foster parents, Deidre and Jerry Matthews.
The children are suing the state and more than 20 Delaware County DHS office employees.
The attorneys who filed the lawsuit said, over a nearly 10-year period, at least 17 people made reports to DHS that the children living with the Matthews were not safe.
The documents say on at least 10 occasions DHS investigated, but did nothing.
One mother says reading through the lawsuit would leave most anyone angry. She has since adopted one of the children; to protect her child, we're concealing the mother's identity.
“Horrific…I think the conditions were horrific,” she said. “The mental effects it's had on them, I'm not sure will ever go away.”
The lawsuit says Jerry and Deidre Matthews became foster parents in December 2003. By 2007 the suit says the family was living in a small mobile home with eight to 11 children - some foster children, others adopted. According to the suit, the family also had up to 50 animals, including ten monkeys.
Court records say the monkeys attacked two of the children, one was 10 at the time. But instead of going to the hospital, the lawsuit says Deidre gave the child six shots of veterinary grade nerve block and stitched the wound with a needle and string that she used to perform c-sections on dogs.
The lawsuit says a school principal reported to DHS that a child, 7 at the time, showed up each day caked with dirt and often smelled of urine. The child smelled so badly the day the report was made that the principal vomited. The lawsuit says that same child dug through trashcans at school looking for food.
The suit says a child also reportedly once tortured a kitten and drowned a goat. According to the lawsuit that child was forced to sleep in a metal dog cage. The lawsuit says another child was forced to kill a family pet by bashing its head into a tree trunk.
Court record says the school also reported that another child living with the Matthews was bitten in the face by the family's Great Dane. When the child went to class, the suit says the dog's tooth was still in the child's cheek.
Documents say Deidre was addicted to pain medication and at least three children overdosed on pills.
The lawsuit says, at one point, a case worker noted the children appeared to be neglected, but ended up ruling out neglect and lack of supervision.
"There had to have been a lot of friendships and or, I don't know if they were just trying to cover themselves, I don't know how this all started, but it just snowballed into where we just were continually covering up every referral that was happening," the mother said.
The attorneys who filed the case say they believe some of the employees at the Delaware County DHS office were friends with the Matthews. According to the lawsuit, each time a report was made, someone with the office would tip off the Matthews, giving them time to get things in order and to coach the children on what to tell the case workers. The lawsuit says the Matthews were always present when DHS interviewed the children.
The suit says that went on for nearly 10 years; time one mother said the children will never get back.
"We have some older children who, some of them, won't be able to be placed in homes. Not all of them will have families," she said. "It's a lot for them to overcome, especially at that age."
The lawsuit says all the children were removed from the Matthews' home in April 2014 when one of their cases was transferred to Craig County DHS.
The mother News On 6 spoke with has also fostered children, she says the majority of foster homes in Oklahoma are safe, with case workers who care.
"We don't all operate this way. Most of us love our children and we are advocates for our children, not all DHS workers are bad," she said. "I'm angry with that situation. It's not a common occurrence, it does happen. I have seen it happen, but that is not a normal occurrence."
DHS said several Delaware County employees named in the suit have resigned or retired, but can't say if it's a result of the lawsuit.
The agency said it's investigating the claims and will respond to the allegations in court.