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Oklahoma DHS disputes report on foster care reform efforts

August 30, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Human Services on Thursday took issue with the latest report by monitors that downgraded the agency’s progress in improving the state’s foster care program for children.

Agency director Ed Lake said officials “strongly” object to several parts of the report released Wednesday.

“We believe this report contains a number of misleading comments, isolated facts stated without important context,” Lake said

The report issued bi-annually by the monitors, known as co-neutrals, rates progress toward improving foster care in 31 areas as the state seeks to comply with the terms of a 2012 settlement of a lawsuit alleging foster children were victimized in Oklahoma.

“In some areas, most critically safety for children in the care and custody of DHS, the department’s efforts have been inadequate,” according to the report.

A report in January said the state was making a “good faith effort” in 28 of the 31 areas with the other areas pending further review, said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell. But the latest report notes nine of those areas are no longer making a good faith effort, most notably in the protection of children from abuse and neglect.

“The department’s inadequate efforts, contributing to the high incidence of child maltreatment, raise serious concerns for child safety,” the report states.

DHS said the number of children reported as maltreated is inflated because a state law requires it to investigate the threat of abuse or neglect before a child is harmed.

“While this counts against DHS’s (Maltreatment In Care) numbers, these ... individual allegations and findings were actually related to a risk of abuse or neglect that had not yet occurred to that specific child,” the agency said in response to the report. “These children did not experience actual abuse or neglect.”

Other areas cited include reducing the length of time children remain in foster care, finding permanent homes for them and increasing the number of new therapeutic foster homes.

“Over the course of the reform, important advancements have been made by DHS,” the report acknowledged. “In order to improve performance for children toward the Target Outcomes identified at the outset of this reform effort, DHS must make good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress in each of the measured areas.”

Powell said DHS has spent nearly $290 million on reform efforts in what is called the Pinnacle Plan since the 2012 settlement.

The co-neutrals did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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