News9.com and Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele has named a task force to study the Department of Human Services.
Steele said Wednesday the task force will look at ways the agency can better serve children in the state.
"Today we begin working together to find a better way," said Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "The Legislature has made incremental DHS reforms over the years, but more improvements are needed. The comprehensive reform we seek is only achievable if we all truly cooperate and work toward a common goal. It won't be easy, but what we're saying today is we're going to buckle down and get there together."
The move comes after the deaths of some children who were returned to their families after being in DHS custody.
The deaths include a girl who was returned to her father even though she was injured earlier while in his care. Another girl who died was allowed to remain with her mother even though the child and mother both tested positive for illegal drugs when the girl was born.
Steele has asked a bipartisan group of five representatives to engage in a strategic review of DHS to develop policy to consider next legislative session.
Leading the group will be Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who has spent this summer and past years reviewing DHS to look for potential reforms.
"Make no mistake: This is no typical legislative committee. There will be no sitting in hearings making motions and watching PowerPoints all day," Nelson said. "DHS faces serious challenges that necessitate us getting out of the Capitol and into the field."
Other members of the group are Reps. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, and Wade Rousselot, D-Okay.
Governor Mary Fallin released a statement Wednesday after House Speaker Kris Steele and other legislators announced the formation of a new task force:
"When I appointed Brad Yarbrough and Wes Lane to the DHS commission, I asked them to pursue reforms that would allow the agency to better protect our children and increase accountability, transparency and efficiency. The goals outlined today by Speaker Steele, a bipartisan group of legislators, and agency officials is the logical next step in that process," Fallin said. "As a state, we must all work together to prevent the abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable citizens. That's especially true when it comes to child abuse and the heart-breaking deaths of children in state custody. We have, unfortunately, seen too many instances of both recently, and the current results are unacceptable. Today's announcement puts us on a path to reform our systems of child welfare and better protect vulnerable Oklahomans," Governor Mary Fallin.