Oklahoma DHS Audit Findings Released

Wednesday, February 25th 2009, 3:04 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News on 6

TULSA, OK -- A new report out Wednesday says too many kids are in Department of Human Services' custody for too long.

It is only one of the findings in a new state audit requested by state lawmakers. The report is 171 pages and has 25 possible ways to fix DHS.

State lawmakers are promising to put some of these ideas into action.

More than 10,000 Oklahoma kids are in the custody of DHS. State lawmakers say that's way too many.

"We take too many kids into state custody," said Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa. "In fact, we take twice as many kids into state custody as the national average."          

A new state audit on the agency reports there are about 13 kids in state custody for every 1,000 children in the state. That rate is higher than other states in the region.

State lawmakers say part of the problem is that it's not only DHS caseworkers who remove kids from homes. Tulsa County has a "standing order" that allows law enforcement to take kids into protective custody.

When they do, about half end up at the Laura Dester Shelter.

"Shelters are very impersonal and very frightening to young kids, and we need to reduce the use of shelters," Peters said.

Lawmakers want to end standing orders, require police to call DHS before deciding whether to remove a child and phase out big shelters like Laura Dester.

They say it would save money and reduce the number of kids in state custody.

It's all part of an effort to reform DHS, which is being sued in federal court by a national child advocacy group.

State lawmakers believe the new legislation will bring the kind of reform the plaintiffs are requesting.

"We're addressing I'd say about 90 percent," Peters said. "The legislation and this effort would address a full 90 percent of what the plaintiffs are asking for in the lawsuit."

Paul DeMuro, one of the attorneys suing the state on behalf of nine children, says the audit confirms the agency is in disarray. But he says legislation alone won't fix the problems at DHS.

"What we need is federal court intervention to be able to enforce the standards that everybody knows exists," DeMuro said.

The audit also calls for more training for DHS workers and more support for foster parents.

State lawmakers are already working on legislation to implement some of the recommendations. It's supposed to be in committee by Monday.

Read the 197-page audit report.