Group Outlines Possible Solutions For DHS

Friday, February 13th 2009, 9:59 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News on 6

TULSA, OK -- The group suing Oklahoma's Department of Human Services has come up with a list of ways to potentially fix the agency.

The allegations brought against DHS say the agency is responsible for the abuse and neglect of children who were in the state's care.

A federal judge has not decided whether DHS is at fault, but the judge demanded a list of possible remedies to see whether it's within the court's power to act.

Kelsey Briggs, Keenan Taylor and Christopher Barnard are a few cases where children were killed while under DHS supervision.

National advocacy group Children's Rights is suing the agency to keep these tragedies from happening again.

A federal judge wanted to know how the group would fix the agency, so he required Children's Rights to come up with a list of possible remedies.

Some of the proposed ways to fix DHS:

  1. Accusation: Case workers can't do a good job because they have too many clients. One caseworker recently reported that she is responsible for 56 children.

    Remedy: Bring Oklahoma case loads of 50 children down to the industry standard, which is more like 12 to 15 children for each caseworker.

    With fewer children to look after, Children's Rights claims that case workers could visit clients more often.

  2. Accusation: Caseworkers "routinely fail to visit for ... six months or more."

    Remedy: Monthly visits or more frequently for children with special needs

    Children's Rights advocates want to check in with foster homes and on the foster parents. They point to 9-month-old Jane Doe, who was so neglected in foster care, she weighed only 12 pounds and had a double ear infection with pus leaking from her sinus cavities.         

  3. Accusation: 25 percent of homes in one Oklahoma County have "serious safety issues and never should have been approved for placement by DHS," according to the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth

    Remedy: Conduct background checks on foster parents, search state DHS records and examine out-of-state child abuse registries

The lawyers for DHS say they're still digesting the list, but call it "wide-ranging and extremely expensive for Oklahoma taxpayers."

Hiring 100 more case workers comes with a $4.5 million price tag.

DHS attorneys also claim this kind of federal oversight could do more harm than good, by interfering with thousands of individual juvenile cases.

Both sides will be back in federal court at the end of the month.