Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Three “co-Neutrals” given oversight of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services have directed the agency to recruit more foster homes, and get them more quickly, and to reduce the workload of agency case workers.
This week's remedial order drew critquees from out-of-state sources, including the group that filed the original lawsuit attacking state practices.
Sheree Powell, director of communications and community at the agency, said in a prepared statement:
"DHS recognizes the importance of the objectives addressed in the remedial order and will work to implement these specific processes which we also believe will be helpful to our efforts. For almost two and a half years DHS has been working diligently to achieve progress with its Pinnacle Plan. The agency welcomes the experience and input of the Co-Neutrals and appreciates their guidance to help DHS progress in its efforts to recruit foster homes and reduce worker caseloads."
For the past 18 months, the agency has contracted with four private agencies for the recruitment and retention of foster families. As part of the Pinnacle Plan, the agency committed to increase such community ties. As a matter of state policy, DHS leaders believe private agencies can do this work than than DHS.
Powell told CapitolBeatOK, “We are working closely with those agencies on any barriers they are experiencing in recruiting families and on issues that we as an agency can do to help them or support them in their recruiting efforts. This partnership is already yielding great results with high quality families. We just need many more of them to adequately serve the children of Oklahoma.”
The agency is to file weekly reports on progress, beginning in December.
Although DHS established 764 new foster homes in fiscal year 2014, that was below the formal target of 1,197.
A backlog of child abuse and neglect investigations continues to plague the agency in the midst of major shifts to comply with the “Pinnacle Plan” orders.
The Oklahoman's Rick Green this week reported 254 investigations were late, most of them six months past due.