Advocates File Federal Class Action Lawsuit Seeking Reform of Oklahoma Child Welfare System

TULSA, OK — Outlining a decade-long slide into disrepair and across-the-board failure to protect children in state custody from often extreme abuse and neglect, the national child advocacy group Children’s Rights has joined four Oklahoma law firms and the international firm Kaye Scholer in filing a federal class action today seeking top-to-bottom reform of Oklahoma’s child welfare system on behalf of the more than 10,000 children placed in its care.

The lawsuit, known as D.G. v. Henry, charges Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services (DHS) with violating the constitutional rights of children by routinely placing them in unsafe, unsupervised, and unstable situations in which many suffer further abuse — and some die — due to the department’s longstanding failure to correct widespread problems that prevent it from providing adequate care and protection.

“Oklahoma has long maintained one of the most dangerous and badly mismanaged child welfare systems in the nation, and thousands of children have suffered under nightmarish conditions for years as a result,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “It is disgraceful that we have to seek a federal court order to force the state to begin fixing problems that it should have addressed many years ago. But it is clear that this is the only way to protect Oklahoma’s abused and neglected children — and that is what this lawsuit is about.”

The lawsuit names nine children as plaintiffs to represent the class. They range in age from four months to 16 years and share a history of suffering in DHS placements. They include:

Noting that pernicious problems in DHS’s treatment of foster children have been documented continually for at least 10 years in reports issued by the federal government and the state of Oklahoma itself, the lawsuit asks the U.S.District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma to permanently enjoin the state from subjecting plaintiff children to practices that violate their rights — and to order remedial relief for a host of serious problems. Among the charges:

The lawsuit links DHS’s inability to protect children from abuse in state custody to longstanding problems in its management and infrastructure, including:

“DHS has subjected all too many foster children to appalling treatment, even though advocates throughout the state have been calling for reform for years,” said Tom Seymour, attorney with Seymour & Graham of Tulsa. “With this lawsuit, we are asking the federal courts to correct the constitutional injustices meted out to our most sacred assets, which are this state’s children.”

Children’s Rights and Seymour & Graham are joined in representing the plaintiffs in D.G. v. Henry by the Oklahoma firms of Frederic Dorwart Lawyers; Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson; Day, Edwards, Propester & Christensen; and the international law firm Kaye Scholer.

“Although this case focuses on Oklahoma, the problems it highlights in the treatment of abused and neglected children represent a national crisis,” said litigation associate Mark Beckman of Kaye Scholer. “We are proud to stand with Children’s Rights and the attorneys and advocates of Oklahoma in bringing these issues to light and beginning the process of reform.”

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