Steele’s bill to require criminal background checks in foster care advances

Legislative Staff Release

Published 04-Mar-2011

It has been almost a year since 7-year-old Aja Johnson was found dead in a wooded area in rural Norman. Aja’s stepfather, Lester Hobbs, had a violent past which ultimately included killing his daughter.

This week, House lawmakers took a step toward preventing such situations in the future. The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Speaker of the House Kris Steele’s House Bill 2136 which requires the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) to conduct criminal background checks on all adults living in a home before a foster child is reunited with a parent.  

“I want to prevent additional heart wrenching cases such as Aja Johnson’s from happening again,” stated Steele. “We must make sure all factors are considered before children in vulnerable, at-risk situations, are placed back in the home. Background checks are the most obvious piece of the puzzle that was missing in Aja’s case.”

H.B. 2136 directs DHS to conduct a safety analysis upon receipt of a report that a child may be abused or neglected. The analysis will include a criminal background check of any adult known to be in the home of the child and inquiries into Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation records.

The measure also requires service provider progress reports submitted to the court be delivered to each party involved in determining the placement of a child. In addition, the measure permits the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth to disclose any previous child welfare encounters or investigations involving a child who has died or nearly died.

“Several state agencies are involved with many of these cases, but unfortunately clear communication is not transpiring,” stated Steele. “House Bill 2136 could solve this dilemma by ensuring service reports are shared with each entity involved in the case. This will help shore up any cracks in the system and hopefully prevent any child from slipping through the cracks.”