Families speak out against DHS

Tuesday, April 8th 2008, 8:30 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

A state legislator hosted a hearing Tuesday to allow families to share their "horror stories" about the state Department of Human Services.

The hearing entitled, "If I Could Change One Thing," was organized by Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City). The lawmaker's proposed solution to DHS problems, a bill splitting the agency into smaller, more manageable parts, was ignored by legislative leaders earlier this session.

"I was told that they wanted to go a different direction, without even hearing the bill, and to go out and spend $500,000 on a private audit to do exactly what's going on in there right now," he said.

Allene Hebensperger told the crowd that DHS was forcing her 9-year-old granddaughter to live in a home where she's being sexually abused, refusing to let the girl live with her grandparents.

"These people need to be held accountable," Hebensperger said. "They need to be charged with child endangerment, failure to protect, withholding evidence."

DHS Director Howard Hendrick said he has heard the criticisms. He said if he could change one thing, it would be that more children would be born into healthy, two-parent homes so his department's services wouldn't be needed.

"Forty-one percent of all the children born in Oklahoma last year were born out of wedlock, a record number," he said

Hendrick said DHS is working hard to improve services and be more efficient, but said he's not convinced that splitting up the agency is the answer.

Rep. Morrissette said he plans to take the information and suggestions he got today, incorporate them into legislation, and introduce that as an amendment before the end of this session.