The first formal grades for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services' court-approved foster care reform program are out -- and they're not what DHS had hoped for.
The Pinnacle Plan is the settlement agreed upon in 2012 by DHS and the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit. It gave the state agency five years to hit specific targets in seven identified areas of need, and tasked a panel of three nationally-known child welfare experts – known as the Co-Neutrals – to regularly evaluate DHS's progress toward those goals.
Under the agreement, DHS must meet the targets or, in the eyes of the Co-Neutrals, at least demonstrate a good faith effort at meeting them.
In an interview just over a month ago, DHS Director Ed Lake admitted he fully expected this report from the Co-Neutrals would be critical of his agency.
"I'm under no illusions it's going to be a positive report," Lake told News 9, "but I'm optimistic – we're trying to continue to push forward and it's been difficult."
In their commentary, the Co-Neutrals recognized those difficulties, concluding DHS's attempts to recruit new foster homes "[do] not represent good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress..."
They reached the same conclusion with regard to efforts to recruit more therapeutic foster homes.
There was some good news, however, in relation to DHS's efforts to completely phase out the use of shelters for foster children under the age of 2. The Co-Neutrals found "DHS has made good faith efforts to achieve substantial progress."
On the other metrics, the Co-Neutrals voiced concerns about lack of progress, but, for various reasons, decided to withhold judgment for now.
DHS officials responded with a statement that reads, in part: "The pace of a few of our initiatives hasn't been what we all wanted it to be, but that certainly hasn't been for lack of effort or support for our work."