9 Investigates: DHS Workers Blow Whistle On Child Protective Services
OKLAHOMA CITY - DHS workers are blowing the whistle on Oklahoma's Child Protective Services, saying they are overburdened with extremely high caseloads and the state is covering it all up to comply with a court order. As a result, children aren't being protected like they should.
“I don’t know if all the children in my caseload are safe right now,” said one of the workers named Shawna. News 9 is not using her last name because of the nature of her job. “I can honestly say that. I don’t know.”
Shawna is a worker for Child Protective Services. That's who's called in to investigate when DHS gets a report that children may be in danger. But she and two of her co-workers told News 9 that an unrealistic workload makes protecting those kids impossible.
“As a supervisor right now, I have roughly 120 cases under me divided among three people,” said Heidi a supervisor in Oklahoma City’s CPS office.
“If these kids aren’t being seen and assessed efficiently that’s when we have tragedies like deaths, significant injuries, near deaths,” said another worker named Holly.
Those caseloads of 30 to 40 cases per worker are a violation of a class action settlement called the “Pinnacle Plan”, which mandates only 12 open investigations per worker. The most recent Pinnacle Plan report shows 75 percent of investigation caseloads are meeting those standards. But these ladies told News 9 that's not true.
“Whenever workers who have left the agency or have been fired, they keep a case load for them so they can keep our numbers and make it look like we have less then we have,” said Shawna.
In order to reduce caseloads, the workers say they are mandated to clear cases in 30 to 60 days. That often results in 60-hour work weeks and sometimes 20-hour days.
“We’ve showed up to work at 8 or 9 in the morning and we’re just getting back to our house at 6-7 a.m.,” said Holly.
“They’re getting overworked, they’re being asked to accomplish the impossible and kids are getting hurt,” said Rachel Bussett an attorney who represents multiple DHS employees including these three women. “Workers are being disciplined when they don’t close cases fast enough.”
Shawna said she was also retaliated against when she brought these concerns to DHS Director Ed Lake in hopes of prompting change.
“I know of people within the agency that are so stressed out they are turning to drugs and alcohol,” Shawna said.
Now, all three feel their only option to protecting Oklahoma children and themselves is to go public.
“We have cases that are a rolling backlog of 60 days and in some cases these children have never ever been seen and we’re responsible as a worker if something were to happen,” said Holly.
News 9 sat down with three supervisors with DHS to discuss these allegations. They deny they are manipulating caseload numbers to comply with the Pinnacle Plan.
“With our quality assurance process in place it’s not possible for that to happen,” said Jami Ledoux, the Director of Child Welfare Services.
However, a report News 9 obtained from DHS of caseloads from September 1 and 2 of this year, shows cases assigned to one worker who left the agency in July and another who was on leave during that period.
LaDoux sent in this statement in response to that document:
News 9 also spent more than an hour going over a statewide report of all workers that we obtained through a Freedom of Information request. That report also reinforces several workers especially in Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties have extremely high caseloads.
But LaDoux said they closely monitor caseloads of workers to keep them manageable.
“In the majority of the time, I would say most of the time there are extraordinary circumstances that are leading to those workers having those what I would consider alarming numbers of cases assigned to them at a certain point of time,” said LeDoux.
See below for the complete caseload report for Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.: