TULSA, OK — One out of eight children in a massive review of Oklahoma foster care cases has suffered confirmed abuse or neglect in the custody of the state Department of Human Services (DHS), according to a new report by independent child welfare experts released today by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights and local counsel.
An additional nine percent of children for whom reports of abuse and neglect in state foster care were not substantiated were nonetheless found to be in such troubling circumstances that services were required.
And DHS routinely shuffles children between foster placements at extremely high rates — with nearly 55 percent of children in the sample experiencing four or more different placements during their most recent stay in Oklahoma foster care, according to the study (PDF). Of those children, 14 percent had 10 or more placements in their last stint in foster care.
“While Oklahoma continues to release its own questionable claims that its child welfare system is improving, the findings in this independent review reveal the disgraceful reality for kids in Oklahoma foster care,” said Children’s Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry. “It is extraordinary that Oklahoma continues to defend a system that is doing so much harm to so many of the state’s vulnerable children.”
The report was authored by the Center for the Support of Families (CSF). In addition to findings on the safety and well-being of children in DHS custody, CSF’s assessment also tells the personal stories of individual children harmed by Oklahoma’s deeply dysfunctional child welfare system:
- A 17-year-old boy, in foster care since he was 10 years old, suffered abuse and neglect throughout the first two years in one foster home — both at the hands of other children living in the home and his foster mother. Finally, after nine different allegations of physical abuse and inadequate care, the child was removed to a different placement.
- One 10-year-old child’s placement history over five years in foster care included five separate stays in shelters, four different foster homes, a relative home, an emergency foster home, a psychiatric facility, a residential treatment center, and one placement the reviewers couldn’t determine where the child had been.
- A three-year-old girl was immediately placed in a shelter when she entered foster care at only two years old, and then bounced around to eight different placements — including two more inappropriate shelter stays — in less than a year.
The expert review released today closely reviewed 374 randomly-selected children who had been in DHS custody for at least 60 days as of March 1, 2010. The in-depth study reports a number of troubling statistics related to the safety of children in foster care, how often youth are moved while in state custody, the state’s efforts to find permanent homes for kids in foster care, and DHS’s ability to provide quality services to youth in their custody. CSF’s report highlights several disturbing trends among the children whose cases were reviewed:
- Twelve percent of children in the sample had been the victim of confirmed abuse or neglect while in foster care at some point during the child’s history with DHS, and for another nine percent of children who were the subject of a maltreatment investigation, there was sufficient concern that additional services were recommended.
- Approximately 92 percent of the families in the sample had at least one prior abuse or neglect allegation before the child’s most recent entry into foster care. Twenty-five percent of the families in the sample had 10 or more prior allegations.
- Nearly 55 percent of children in the sample experienced four or more foster care placements during their most recent stay in Oklahoma foster care — 13 percent of whom actually bounced around to 10 placements or more.
- Almost half of the children in the sample who had moved around to three or more different placements were under 5 years old when they came into foster care.
- Forty-three percent of children who had been in foster care for less than a year moved around to three or more foster placements.
- Approximately 60 percent of children in the sample were placed in temporary shelters upon entering foster care.
- Nearly half the children in the sample had been in DHS custody for two years or longer by June 1, 2010, and almost one third of children had been in custody for three years or longer.
- About 10 percent of children in the sample had 10 or more different secondary caseworkers assigned to their cases while in foster care, and nearly 30 percent of children had five or more primary caseworkers.
The experts who conducted the study have extensive backgrounds in child welfare, including participating in federal reviews of state child welfare data.
Children’s Rights joined local Oklahoma law firms Frederic Dorwart Lawyers and Seymour & Graham and the international firm Kaye Scholer in filing a lawsuit in federal court in February 2008 seeking widespread reforms throughout the Oklahoma child welfare system on behalf of more than 10,000 abused and neglected children statewide who depend on the system for protection and care. The federal judge presiding over the case denied a motion by DHS to dismiss the case in January 2009, and, in May 2009, ruled that the case could proceed as a class action on behalf of all children in DHS custody. DHS subsequently appealed that decision, and a federal appeals court unanimously upheld the district court’s decision in February 2010, allowing the case once again to proceed as a class action.
The full text of the new expert report released today and more information about Children’s Rights’ efforts to reform Oklahoma’s child welfare can be found at www.childrensrights.org/oklahoma.