State Also Struggling with Growing Backlog of Child Protection Investigations, According to DHS Data
(New York, NY) –– The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) is failing to make needed progress in crucial areas like recruiting more foster families, reducing shelter use for young children and keeping kids safe from abuse and neglect in foster care, according to the latest DHS-issued monthly report tracking court-enforceable requirements of its child welfare reform.
The June 2014 monthly summary report is the latest to document the agency’s progress on key aspects of the Pinnacle Plan, its five-year roadmap for reform. In 2012, the plan was approved by independent court-appointed child welfare experts known as “Co-Neutrals,” following the settlement of D.G. v. Yarbrough, a class action lawsuit brought by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights and Frederic Dorwart Lawyers in Tulsa.
“It is clear that without further court action, Oklahoma is unable or unwilling to fulfill the important promises it made to its kids,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “We are prepared to ask the Co-Neutrals to ensure that required reforms take place, so Oklahoma’s children can have the safety and protection they deserve.”
According to the latest report, the state is failing to make needed improvements in the following areas:
•Maltreatment in Foster Care: In February 2014, there were 28 total substantiations of maltreatment by resource caregivers, up from 16 in January 2014.
•Shelter Use: 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 between February and March 2014 from 19 children spending a total of 205 nights in shelters to 34 children spending a total of 319 nights in shelters. 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.
•New Family Foster Homes: Between July 2013 and March 2014 (the first 9 months of state FY 2014) the state 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 developed only approximately 45 percent of the new homes needed. With only 3 months of data outstanding (April, May and June), it seems unlikely that the state will meet this target.
•New Therapeutic Foster Homes: Between July 2013 and March 2014, the state opened 91 new therapeutic foster homes, which is only approximately 61 percent of the target of 150 new homes for FY 2014.
Other DHS data, not in the report, but obtained by the Co-Neutrals, indicates DHS is also struggling with an increasing backlog of in-home child protection investigations. Since February 2014 – when DHS had 630 investigations past due – the backlog has continually climbed by at least 100 cases each month. Between April and May 2014, the in-home investigation backlog rose significantly from 881 overdue investigations to 1,405, an increase of approximately 60 percent.
“Unless the executives responsible for the Department’s compliance with the Pinnacle Plan effect major changes, it appears near certain that the state will not meet its goals,” said Fred Dorwart, co-counsel on the case. “Two years after the plan was created, our Oklahoma kids continue to be subject to the harms that led to the plan in the first place. The Governor owns this obligation and she needs to get active.”
Children’s Rights, Oklahoma law firm Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers, and the international law firm Kaye Scholer filed the lawsuit D.G. v. Yarbrough in federal court in February 2008.