Oklahoma DHS Coming Up Short In Foster Families, Caseworker Retention

Tuesday, October 1st 2013, 7:15 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Oklahoma's Department of Human Services says it's making progress after a court order the agency to improve the system. At the same time, however, DHS leaders admit they've missed some key deadlines in what's called the "Pinnacle Plan."

Statistics show as recently as the month of May, 40 children were abused while in DHS custody.

That's the heart of a new report out showing progress at DHS - and also some goals that haven't been met on recruiting new foster families and new case workers to handle the load.

A small group of foster parents and DHS employees met to get the latest numbers on the DHS plan for self improvement. While the agency's numbers show progress in almost all categories - they also show it's behind in meeting some of the individual standards that indicate better care for children.

Read the DHS Pinnacle Plan Monthly Report

For example, while the target for DHS is to place all children under the age of 2 in homes - not shelters, in August, 28 children under the age of 1 spent on average six nights in shelters.

"We're encouraged by the progress in the number of staff we've been able to bring on board, by the reduction of younger children in shelters," said Deborah Smith, Child Welfare Services Director.

"We're encouraged by the number of foster parents we've recruited, but we have a long road ahead and need more foster families approved in the system to meet the need."

The need for DHS services continues to grow, and in August there were 10,850 children in actual custody of DHS - not just under their supervision. That's why the need to constantly recruit foster families is so great.

The target for new foster homes is about 100 per month. But in August, just 75 were recruited by DHS. They've found 796 new foster families in the last year - but lost more than half - making the increase just 250 for the year.

There's a similar problem recruiting enough employees. A third of all new case workers leave less than six months into the job - leaving most of them overloaded with cases.

"That turnover, retention, is still pretty tough, and we've got to do a better job there," said Deborah Smith, Child Welfare Services.

The end of year is when DHS really is supposed to be meeting the new standards, according to the settlement of lawsuit that prompted all of this change. A panel of outside reviewers will decide after that whether the progress is good enough.