OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director has announced he will retire. According to DHS, Howard Hendrick's last day will be February 29.

Hendrick made the announcement Tuesday during a DHS Commission meeting. Someone from the crowd yelled out "we love you Howard." Hendrick then received a standing ovation from the crowd for the work he has done for the agency.

Hendrick has been in office since July 1, 1998. He's was currently the longest tenured Human Services director in the nation.

Hendrick led the embattled agency through its federal class action lawsuit filed by the child advocacy group Children's Rights in 2008. Children's Rights claimed children in state custody were in danger because the system wasn't doing enough to protect them.

The state has spent millions fighting the lawsuit.

Commissioners who oversee the Oklahoma Department of Human Services voted January 4, 2012 to approve a settlement.

Back in September 2011, Hendrick sat down with News 9 and said he had no plans of leaving the department. At the time, the department was under fire for its handling of several high profile cases including the death of Serenity Deal.

Hendrick also addressed questions about high case loads and caseworker turnover, policies and procedures, and how his agency handles the increased demand for services in light of our down-turned economy and how budget cuts have factored into it.

The number of issues being addressed at DHS prompted Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele to name a task force to study the department. Steele said the task force will look at ways the agency can better serve children in the state.

DHS doesn't have a replacement in mind as of yet.

Governor Mary Fallin released this statement Tuesday following Hendrick's announcement to step down:

"My thanks go out to Howard Hendrick for his many years of public service, both in the legislature and as director of the Department of Human Services. I wish him the best as he prepares to depart from his post at DHS to pursue new opportunities." – Governor Mary Fallin