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November 03, 2014 Practice Points

Report Blasts Oklahoma Child Welfare System

By Robert M. Murphy

A report issued in October entitled Co-Neutral Commentary Three concluded  that Oklahoma has not made "good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress" towards meeting comprehensive reform in its child welfare system.

The report commented on the "Pinnacle Plan" that is an integral part of the "Compromise and Settlement" (CSA) where the state of Oklahoma and the nonprofit group Children's Rights agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed in 2008. Part of the settlement required that three neutrals monitor progress made by the state in "reforming an understaffed, under-resourced agency with a rising population of vulnerable children in its custody, and a pattern of housing very young children, including infants, in overcrowded shelters."

Monitors noted that progress was exacerbated by the fact that "40% of new workers statewide left DHS (last year)." When the Pinnacle Plan was written in 2012, roughly 8,500 children were in foster care and, as of the report, 11,580 children were in care. The report concluded that the Department of Human Services (DHS) is trying but so far its efforts "do not yet represent good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward target outcomes." Neutrals had ongoing meetings with caseworkers and supervisors across the state and noted that there is no supervisor or worker that could confirm any systematic effort to begin implementing graduated assignments—not even through an initial pilot.

The Casey Family Programs also funded a study (solicited by DHS) that the increase in children going into DHS's care was not due to simply better identification of abuse and neglect but rather that the increased DHS caseload was due to a continuation of unproductive practices and that a fairly consistent theme was that "best practice" was often not supported by the workload implications or the availability of resources.

Part of the settlement was to reduce worker turnover by increasing salaries 6.25%. However the governor and the legislature have failed to follow through with the promised raises that further undermine worker morale. 

The complete report can be found here.

Keywords: litigation, children's rights,Oklahoma, child welfare system, DHS, Casey Family Programs, Co-Neutral Commentary Three, Pinnacle Plan

Robert M. Murphy is with the Office of Administrative Hearings in Spokane, Washington.

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