Oklahoma child welfare officials have long denied that its agency puts vulnerable children in harm’s way. A new story, spurred by Children’s Rights reform campaign, expresses in stark terms the public’s growing frustration with a dangerous system.
Since the day we told Oklahoma that it had to fix its broken foster care system, state officials have repeatedly claimed that there was nothing to be repaired. Instead, they’ve spent millions in state funds on outside law firms to battle our efforts every step of the way.
This weekend, one of the state’s largest newspapers, The Oklahoman, stated in blunt language what Children’s Rights has known for a long time: “[Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services] misrepresents number of children abused and neglected in state custody.”
And the response from Oklahoma’s child welfare officials?
For months and months, those officials have claimed that abuse and neglect in its institution-like foster care settings were minimal and wouldn’t affect the overall assessment of its child welfare performance. They were forced to make these claims because Oklahoma doesn’t report statistics from its foster care institutions — even though the federal government says that it should.
The bottom line: The combined statistics of abuse and neglect from both foster care homes and institutions places Oklahoma among the three most dangerous child welfare states in the country. In fact, more than half of all mistreatment takes place in institutions — even though most children are placed in foster homes.
State officials continue to try to shove blame elsewhere, saying Oklahoma’s standards are more rigorous than in most states. But on the heels of widely reported deaths of children in foster care, tragic accounts of vulnerable children languishing for years in state custody, and unreliable sources of information about the true state of child welfare, these explanations ring hollow.
Mistakes and dysfunction seem to be standard fare in Oklahoma’s child welfare agency. A recent wave of investigation undertaken by Children’s Rights with help from national child welfare experts revealed that, in addition to exceptionally high abuse-in-care rates, a shocking lack of accountability pervades the highest levels of management.
What Oklahoma’s child welfare officials are failing to grasp is that this reform campaign isn’t about statistics.
It’s about children.
Every child should have the right to grow up in a safe, stable home, but for years Oklahoma has been failing to protect that right — and failing to protect the kids who need the most help.
Children’s Rights will continue fighting on behalf of the forgotten children of Oklahoma until state officials take their responsibility to them seriously. When it comes to kids in foster care, there really isn’t any room for honest mistakes.
Editorial: DHS woes continue to grow (Tulsa World, October 19, 2011)
Editorial: Underreporting of abuse statistics another sad commentary on DHS (The Oklahoman, October 18, 2011)
Oklahoma Lawmakers Chide DHS (News on 6, October 17, 2011)
DHS misrepresents number of children abused and neglected in state custody (The Oklahoman, October 16, 2011)
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