Expert Challenges Claims Of Progress At Oklahoma Department Of Human Services

Wednesday, November 16th 2011, 9:53 pm
By: News On 6

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services says it's gotten better since a federal lawsuit was filed more than three years ago. But its own expert disagrees.

DHS has flat out denied caseloads are a problem. But the expert witness testifying on behalf of the state in the federal lawsuit says that's not true.

Too many cases piled on to too few workers leads to too many mistakes. That's the crux of Children's Rights argument against DHS.

In 2010, they claimed Department of Human Services didn't even really know how many cases workers were juggling. The head of the agency claims that's all in the past.

"I don't think the case loads are excessive. We have 30 percent less kids in foster care than we did four years ago," Howard Henrick, DHS Director, said in October.

Overall numbers may be down, but new details out this week show caseloads may in fact be excessive. Judge Greg Frizzell highlights a report from last March that shows nearly 70 percent of children in out of home care had primary caseworkers whose caseloads were higher than 20. The national standard is 18.

Nearly 40 percent had caseworkers with caseloads of more than 25 children. And roughly 15 percent had caseworkers who were managing more than 30 other children. To make matters worse, the agency's numbers may not even be accurate.

A DHS field director is quoted as saying some reports "omit entire categories of assignments from its calculations" and "thus understates the average number of children assigned" to workers.

More damning still, Judge Frizzell says the state's own expert witness "concluded DHS does not accurately measure caseloads and that its caseloads exceed professionally accepted standards."

A settlement conference report was filed Tuesday that said settlement negotiations were pending. But that doesn't mean a settlement is imminent. A similar report was filed at the end of October.

11/14/2011 Related Story: New Oklahoma DHS Commissioner Talks About The Future Of The Agency