Oklahoma's child welfare system received the best report card since a class action lawsuit three years ago that required reform.
DHS had to make major changes since settling that case and a new report shows strides in two major areas.
However, critics said the progress is still not enough.
The report showed the most good marks DHS has ever received from the experts who monitor the agency’s progress, but the report also showed that children in state custody are still being abused at the same rate, or worse.
The good news is DHS is cutting down on worker caseloads by hiring 326 new child welfare specialists, and caseworkers are meeting their required monthly visits with the children assigned to them.
“This was very encouraging to us, this was one of the best reports we have received yet on the pinnacle plan and our efforts to improve the foster care system,” said DHS spokesperson Sheree Powell.
However, the bad news is experts found the state has failed to progress in:
The new report stated 177 more children were abused or neglected than would have been if the state had met its goal of cutting down on maltreatment.
The executive director for the non-profit advocacy group, A Better Childhood, which is representing the children in the federal civil rights lawsuit said the maltreatment rate is the most shocking find.
“They've been taken away from families to protect them and now the state is doing the same thing to them,” said Marcia Lowry with A Better Childhood. “That's a pretty sad commentary,” she added.
DHS said it is closing its two state-run emergency children's shelters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to try to cut down on the risk for abuse and the number of older kids in shelters.
“They are very large facilities and those are areas where children are most likely to experience abuse or neglect while in care and that's another area we are focusing very heavily on,” Powell told News 9.
DHS was also able to recruit 177 more foster homes over the last year, but it needs more, especially therapeutic foster homes. Therapeutic foster homes are specially trained to handle kids with special medical, emotional or behavioral needs.
Click here: http://www.okdhs.org/programsandservices/foster/