Federal Suit Continues Against DHS

Thursday, December 18th 2008, 5:28 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

UNDATED -- A nine-month-old baby girl so neglected she was covered in scabs and had untreated infections in both ears.  And the child was in the state's care.  The group suing Oklahoma's Department of Human Services say the little girl's case is proof the agency is broken.

The allegations are startling and that nine-month-old baby girl is just one example.  But, DHS claims it's a state matter that state courts are dealing with and there's no need for a federal lawsuit.

It's little ones like Kylie that DHS holds up as a shining example of the system working.  She was a foster baby adopted by her foster parents, able to grow up and thrive in a loving home.

But, the lawyers for Children's Rights, who are suing the agency, paint a much different picture.  Instead of smiling Kylie, they hold up nine-month-old Jane Doe, who was removed from her foster parent because of neglect.  According to DHS records, the baby weighed only 12 pounds and couldn't sit up or crawl.

The report says she had horrible eczema like fish scales all over her body and her arms and legs were badly scabbed.  The baby was so sick, she couldn't keep milk down.  And, she had ear infections so bad, pus was leaking from her sinus cavities.

According to the DHS report, the foster parent just hadn't gotten around to taking her to the doctor.

"And, it is a failure of the system that leads children like this nine-month-old baby girl to be abused in this way," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

Paul DeMuro is suing DHS on behalf of nine kids in DHS care.  He says by the time that baby girl was 11 months, she had 17 different placements.

"The bottom line is this system is fundamentally broke. And, it needs system-wide reform. We've gotta fix the whole system," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

Attorneys for DHS have filed several motions to get the lawsuit thrown out of court.  Basically, they argue that this is a state matter.  And, that these cases are already being handled on an individual basis by state courts, and the federal court shouldn't interfere.

"The state court can't fix what it can't see," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

DeMuro argues cases like the nine-month-old baby girl show the state courts can't do it alone.

"The state court can't fix excessive case loads of the DHS workers. The state court can't fix the problem of they're not enough suitable foster homes or suitable alternatives," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

Paul DeMuro says those are the type of changes a federal lawsuit can make.  He says Children's Rights has done it before in other states.

The attorney for DHS did not return calls from The News On 6.

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