Children's Rights Told To Propose DHS Changes

Monday, January 12th 2009, 10:20 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- There are new developments in the lawsuit against Oklahoma's Department of Human Services.  A judge says the lawsuit against DHS is too vague when it comes to fixing the agency.  So, he's asking the children's advocacy group behind the suit to come up with a list of proposed changes by March 9th.

The national children's advocacy group Children's Rights believes Oklahoma's child welfare system is in crisis.

"Constitutional rights are at stake.  The lives of children are at stake here. Children are getting beaten, sexually abused, scalded, skull fractures, while under the protection of the state," said Children's Rights' Marcia Lowry.

The allegations are similar to what the group found in Tennessee.  Children's Rights sued Tennessee back in 2000 with Brian A. versus Bredesen.

The complaint against Tennessee echoes many of the accusations against Oklahoma DHS.  The lawsuit profiled several children, including nine-year-old Brian A., who had lived in a temporary shelter for seven months and had been practically cut-off from his five siblings.

And then, there was 13-year-old Tracy B. They claimed she'd been shuffled between 15 foster homes in just one year.

And one of the most tragic cases was little Charles C.  The lawsuit says the seven year old was taken away from his drug-addicted mother at birth, after he tested positive for cocaine.  It goes on to say Charles lived happily with a foster family until he was 5.  Then, he was sent back to his biological mother.

The suit says that's when Charles ate some of his mother's drugs, had a violent seizure and suffered massive brain damage.  It goes on to say seven-year-old Charles has to wear a helmet, when he's awake to keep him from hurting himself.

Tennessee settled the lawsuit in July of 2001.  The 57-page consent decree details a massive list of reforms, everything from case worker training and management to raising allowances for foster homes.

Specifically, the settlement capped level one case workers at 15 children, level two and three case workers at just 20.

Right now, Children's Rights says some Oklahoma case workers are responsible for as many as 50 children.       

The settlement even got into dollars and cents, requiring a statewide needs assessment.  And mandating $4 million every year for five years to implement the study's findings, as well as setting aside $2 million in a contingency fund.

Children's Rights says the settlement prompted Tennessee to hire more than 350 additional caseworkers.  And, Tennessee also shows the group means business.  It took the state back to court in 2003, when it wasn't following the settlement.  And, it's still checking up on the state almost eight years after the agreement was reached.