Too many kids are being abused while in state custody. That's according to the latest report on the DHS' progress in reforming Oklahoma's Child Welfare System.
The report was put together by the co-neutrals, a group of experts charged with making sure the state is complying with a settlement in a federal lawsuit.
The good news is in 27 of the 31 performance areas DHS has shown improvement. However, probably the most important category: the number of kids abused while in state care is actually up.
According to the latest report, between "April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, DHS reported that 225 children out of 16,548 in DHS custody were victims of child maltreatment."
“It’s a very small percentage, but it’s something we’re very focused on and we’re very concerned about approving,” said Sheree Powell, Director of Communications for Oklahoma DHS.
The report said most of the abuse happened in foster homes and DHS's efforts to improve safety were not good enough.
Caseworkers missed opportunities to identify and address safety risks during visits to foster homes. So, DHS will be improving the quality of monthly visits and kids and foster parents will be interviewed separately, Powell said.
“So if there’s something happening, the foster child’s not afraid to tell the worker and the foster family’s feeling overwhelmed or needs more resources they can have a pretty pointed conversation with the worker,” she said.
In addition, more than 30 percent of the time DHS screened out calls to its hotline but those calls later revealed “if reviewed and acted upon through enhanced monitoring, could have triggered DHS to intervene sooner and potentially prevent some of the maltreatment that occurred.”
Powell said they will now be paying closer attention to any report and all will be sent to the district director.
The other area the report said DHS needs to focus on improving is helping older kids get adopted before they age out of the system.