In 2005, an Oklahoma boy entered state foster care at the age of five. In the years that followed, his life became a nightmarish blur as the state stashed him in a succession of damaging foster care placements:
Four different foster homes. One emergency foster home. One residential treatment center. An inappropriate shelter — on five different occasions. And one psychiatric facility, the highest level of care for a troubled foster kid.
There was one time that the boy lived briefly with relatives — but just one, and just briefly. And there’s one period of time during which state records simply don’t reflect where he was, even though he was a ward of the state.
The results of this reckless disregard were predictably devastating. The boy spent two and a half years in one home where the foster father sexually abused him — at least twice that DHS knew about, according to its own reports. At other placements, the boy suffered from neglect, inappropriate discipline, violence, and additional sexual abuse by other foster children.
And by the end of these five destructive years — by the time the boy was just 10 years old — psychiatrists had diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, antisocial behaviors, and provisional Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, among a host of other problems.
This is just one boy’s story, but it encompasses nearly all the failures cited in a new report issued by a team of independent child welfare experts who studied the cases of 374 kids recently subjected to Oklahoma’s extremely harmful foster care system.
Too many children entering into the state’s custody encounter a chaotic, unstable system where they are likely to be placed in numerous homes or facilities, many of which are intended to be temporary but end up being far from it, and shuffled from one caseworker to the next.
Kids spend far too long in foster care when they should be growing up in safe, caring, and permanent families, and the state does not adequately document their progress, or lack thereof, while in the system.Most appallingly, one out of every eight kids whose cases were reviewed as part of this report suffered abuse or neglect in foster homes that state caseworkers should have been monitoring.
“While Oklahoma continues to make its own questionable claims that its child welfare system is improving, the findings in this independent review reveal the shameful reality for kids in Oklahoma foster care,” said Children’s Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry today. “It is extraordinary that the state continues to defend a system that is doing so much harm to so many of its vulnerable children.”
But Oklahoma officials have made it clear time and again that they will spare no effort or expense in resisting the vast improvements we seek. We hope that by now, as the evidence of the urgent need for reform becomes overwhelming, they’re getting the picture that we won’t spare any effort either — not as long as the lives of the children in their custody remain a nightmare, and not until all abused and neglected kids across the state get the care and protection they deserve and desperately need.
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