Task Force To Study Oklahoma DHS


Wednesday, October 19th 2011, 6:42 pm
By: News On 6


Ashli Sims, News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Some Oklahoma lawmakers say the state's troubled DHS needs an overhaul. Wednesday, they laid out a four-pronged plan to reform the agency.

Wednesday's bold statements from the lawmakers were followed up by an apology by the head of the commission that oversees the agency.

"I am sorry. I am sorry for every failure that our agency has been associated with in the lives of our neighbors and friends," said Brad Yarborough, DHS Commissioner.

State lawmakers are promising action and accountability. DHS leaders are vowing to change. If it sounds familiar, it may be because you've heard it before.

"I don't know if the ball's been dropped maybe it didn't go all the way," said Representative Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

The legislature passed a series of reforms back in 2009, but DHS continues to be dogged by problems: high turnover, accusations of high caseloads, and too many children dying on the agency's watch.

"Under the circumstances with the deaths of these children it does warrant the legislature getting involved more than they might normally get involved," Nelson said.

Representative Jason Nelson says everything is on the table, from the agency's chain of command to training and retention policies to number of commissioners overseeing the agency. He says he's not convinced the agencies resources are being directed to the right places.

"it may be too middle-heavy, too top-heavy, it's definitely not too bottom-heavy that's for sure," he said.

"It is a problem. We do know that there are problems. But a lot of the problems are a breakdown in family and communications," said Sherri Heath, a maternal family member of Kelsey Smith Briggs, who was killed in 2005.

Both her mother and stepfather were convicted of enabling child abuse. They feel wronged by the system, but not necessarily by DHS.

"Losing a family member while in DHS custody was very difficult. But let me tell you DHS workers do need to be commended," she said.

While lawmakers are putting DHS under the microscope, some child advocates say the legislature should also bear some scrutiny.

Lawmakers didn't act on initiatives to pay foster families more, raise caseworker salaries, and they docked the agency's funding at a time when the demand for services is growing.

10/17/2011 Related Story: Lawmakers Chide DHS