OK - D.G. v. Yarbrough
At the time the complaint was filed, there were nine named plaintiffs, including D.G. and R.J.
D.G. entered DHS custody shortly after his birth. By the time he was 5 months old, his many placements had included a 22-day stay at a grossly inappropriate and overcrowded emergency shelter, where he was inadequately supervised and suffered a fractured skull when a DHS worker — carrying another baby at the same time — dropped him on his head. D.G. was adopted in November 2008.
R.J. was 12 years old at the time of filing and had been in and out of DHS custody for eight years. While he was in care, DHS moved R.J. through more than twenty facilities and homes. This included: an unsafe and inadequately supervised trial home reunification with his neglectful biological mother; six stays at grossly inappropriate and overcrowded emergency shelters; an 18-month stay in a foster home where he was regularly beaten with switches; and an unsafe and poorly supervised group home. R.J. was adopted in September 2011.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma
FILED: February 13, 2008
SETTLEMENT REACHED: February 2012
Children’s Rights, along with Oklahoma law firms Fredric Dowart Lawyers, Seymour & Graham LLP, Day, Edwards, Propester & Christensen PC, and international firm Kaye Scholer, filed this case against the Governor of Oklahoma and Commissioner of the Department of Human Services on behalf of the nine named plaintiffs and more than 10,000 children of Oklahoma who had been removed from their homes by the state. The Complaint alleged violations of the constitutional rights of the children in the state’s care by routinely placing them in unsafe, unsupervised and unstable living situations, where they were frequently subjected to further maltreatment. The parties settled the case in 2012.
Thanks to the Settlement Agreement, and the efforts of Children’s Rights and the court-appointed “co-neutrals,” we have begun to bring about reforms in Oklahoma. For example, the state met targets for child visitation by any worker (at least 95%) and visitation by the primary worker (at least 70%) for every month between April 2013 and March 2014.
However, the most recent co-neutral commentary flags a number of outstanding areas of poor performance:
- In February 2014, there were 28 total substantiations of maltreatment by resource caregivers, up from 16 in January 2014.
- Despite DHS’ promise to stop housing kids between the ages of 2 and 12 in shelters by June 30, 2014, shelter use for children ages 2-5 increased in early 2014 – from 19 children spending 205 nights in shelters in February to 34 children spending 319 nights in shelters in March. Shelter use also increased for kids ages 6-12, with these children spending a total of 3,769 nights in shelters in March, compared to 3,284 in February.
- Between July 2013 and March 2014, the first 9 months of state FY 2014, DHS opened 539 new family foster homes. The co‑neutrals set a target of 1,197 new family foster homes by the end of FY 2014. Thus, DHS has recruited only approximately 45 percent of the new homes needed.
According to the Settlement Agreement , the co-neutrals will issue a final report on December 15, 2016; if that report finds that Defendants have made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward the settlement agreement targets for at least two continuous years prior to the final report, then Defendants will exit monitoring.
Note: As of August 15, 2014 Children’s Rights’ founder and director emeritus Marcia Lowry and local counsel have sole responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the reform efforts in Oklahoma.