Oklahoma DHS Lawsuit Filed
The Department of Human Services faces a federal class action lawsuit filed by the group Children's Rights and several law firms. The lawsuit claims many children have faced appalling treatment in foster homes and it calls for sweeping reforms of the child welfare system. News on 6 Anchor Craig Day reports on the allegations and has DHS's response.
Attorneys say the lawsuit outlines horrific stories that are just the tip of the iceberg. The lawsuit against DHS was filed on behalf of nine foster children ranging in age from 4 months to 16 years. It claims DHS routinely puts children in unsafe, unsupervised, and unstable conditions.
"While it is horrific, and shocking, it's also not surprising to me, because I have seen this sort of thing over a long period of time," said child advocate Anne Sublett.
The suit, says Oklahoma's rate of maltreatment of children in foster care is among the worst in the nation. And, the state often bounces children from one unstable foster parent to another.
"Many of them leave the system worse off than when they came in," said child advocate Anne Sublett.
The child advocacy group, Children's Rights, which is backing a lawsuit, says DHS is chronically understaffed. It wants a federal judge to require more foster homes, caseworkers, treatment for abused children and oversight.
"The consent order would say, ‘here's how we are going to correct these problems, here's how we're going to protect these children, here's how we're going to keep them from harm,'" said attorney Michael Lewis.
"It's a matter of funding. We have challenging situations. We say we always need additional foster care. We always need additional social workers. The case loads, yes the case loads are high," said George Johnson with DHS.
DHS spokesman George Johnson doesn't dispute improvements need to be made. But, he says Oklahoma still has one of the better systems in the country. Johnson says the agency does the best that it can with the resources that they have.
"Even with this lawsuit, we knew already that there were improvements that could be made in the system. But improvements take time and it takes money, and it takes human resource, and capital to take care of," said George Johnson with DHS.
A DHS spokesman says leaders in the agency are still going over the lawsuit. In a statement, they say that DHS looks forward to demonstrating the strengths of the child welfare system and improving where it can.