Lawmakers Push For Rapid DHS Reform

Wednesday, October 19th 2011, 8:44 pm
By: News 9

Ed Murray, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The death this year of two young girls released from DHS custody prompts a new strategy to improve Oklahoma's child welfare system.

House Speaker Kris Steele says we must empower the front line workers at DHS to be successful and that means digging into details like never before. Everything's on the table, from how the agency is governed to its relationships with district attorneys and judges.

"This is not about pointing fingers or casting blame, we've done that. And it's time to move forward."

Steele says the legislature has taken incremental steps every year to improve DHS, but unacceptable results persist. He has asked a bipartisan group of five representatives to aggressively reform governance structure, agency structure, personnel policy, and resource allocation.

Representative Jason Nelson will lead the effort.

"All of these components are important," Nelson says. "And when you see a child death case, you've got to understand that it's not simply a function of there's some case worker running around doing things, willy nilly. There are policies in place and these have to be reviewed."

But Representative Richard Morrissette believes the work this committee will do has already been done. He wants immediate action.

"We need to do this now because every day that we wait, Ed, children are in jeopardy of dying under this agency. Why are we waiting?" he says.

But the newly-appointed chairman of the DHS Commission says to think change is going to be easy or sudden is not realistic. And he feels that for the first time everyone's in the canoe paddling towards a common goal--a safe environment for our most vulnerable.

"I do want to say, and it's not grandstanding, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for every failure that our agency has been associated with," DHS Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough said.

Representative Nelson says his committee will actually go out and talk to families that have had both good and tragic experiences with DHS. A public report of the group's findings will be presented sometime next year.