Categories
Oklahoma Press Releases

PROGRESS CONTINUES, BUT MORE TIME IS NEEDED (04.28.17)

PROGRESS CONTINUES, BUT MORE TIME IS NEEDED

Experts Issue 8th Report on Compliance with Foster Care Targets

D.G. v. YARBROUGH, U.S. District Court Case No. 08-CV-074

The national experts charged with assessing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ progress toward achieving required outcomes for the state’s foster care system, and make good faith efforts toward reaching those outcomes, issued their latest report on Friday. The results were mixed. The experts, called “Co-Neutrals,” found that although the state is still far short of meeting the outcomes, it is making “good faith” efforts toward reaching the goals in many of the areas. But the experts found that more time is needed.

However, in the important areas of developing new therapeutic foster homes and in ensuring placement stability, the Co-Neutrals reserved judgment, rather than issuing a good faith finding. With regard to permanency for older youth, the Co-Neutrals found that the Department had once again failed to even achieve good faith efforts to achieve progress toward the targeted outcomes. The Co-Neutrals also found that the Department had still failed to meet the targeted outcomes, which are overdue.

In most of the areas the Co-Neutrals found that the Department was making good faith efforts to work toward targeted outcomes but that it had not yet reached those negotiated goals.

Oklahoma’s foster care system remains under a court-ordered settlement agreement entered in January 2011, in which the state agreed to meet targeted numerical goals in specified areas within five years. However, the settlement was extended by agreement of the parties in September 2016.

“The Co-Neutrals urge Oklahoma’s leaders to stay the course in funding the core strategies that will drive lasting child welfare improvements forward in a sustainable way,” the report noted. “This includes the commitments to ensure that DHS has a sufficient number of well-trained and well supported foster homes and an adequate number of caseworkers and other key staff to achieve better outcomes for children. Any reversal in support could substantially compromise the still tenuous foundation upon which DHS has sought to build this reform, and undermine years of public investment from the Oklahoma Legislature.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the state must achieve a good faith finding in all of the 21 target areas, and maintain that standard for a continuous period of two years.

“We are glad to see continued progress,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, lead counsel for Plaintiffs, “but somewhat dismayed that so little progress has been made in some of the areas, with new strategies still being developed after such a long time.”

“We should thank the hard work DHS has put into the efforts,” commented Fred Dorwart, local counsel for the foster children, “while ensuring that Oklahomans do not slip back to the prior error of accepting effort in lieu of achievement.”

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, has been lead counsel in the D.G. v. Yarbrough lawsuit since the case was filed in 2008.

Printer-friendly version of the press release

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

Categories
Oklahoma Press Releases

STATE DHS MAKING PROGRESS IN FOSTER CARE REFORM, BUT RATE OF MALTREATMENT REMAINS HIGH (11.17.16)

STATE DHS MAKING PROGRESS IN FOSTER CARE REFORM, BUT RATE OF MALTREATMENT REMAINS HIGH

D.G. v. YARBROUGH, U.S. District Court Case No. 08-CV-074

The latest report issued on Thursday by experts charged with assessing whether the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is making “good faith” efforts to reform of the foster care system has found increased progress in many areas but that the state has not made good faith efforts in protecting children from abuse in foster homes.

Oklahoma’s foster care system has been under a court-ordered settlement agreement for more than four years, resulting from a federal court lawsuit. Three child welfare experts, called “co-neutrals,” are charged with assessing whether the state is making good faith efforts to achieve specific target outcomes detailed in the agreement. They issued their seventh report this week. Although the settlement agreement was originally intended to last for five years, the parties agreed in September to extend its terms.

For the most recent period, the experts report that the state made good faith efforts in 17 of the 21 target areas and, for the first time, achieved a “good faith” finding in increasing the number of new foster homes. The state has also continued to lower workers’ caseloads, has reduced the number of children placed in shelters and the time they spend there, and has continued to visit children in foster homes at a high rate. However, the experts also found that DHS has not taken necessary steps to protect children from being harmed in foster homes, to recruit enough new therapeutic foster homes, and achieve permanency for older youth.

With regard to the maltreatment issue, the report states “The rate of child maltreatment in care in Oklahoma continues to be unacceptably high.”

The report also contains findings from a separate expert review of maltreatment cases, noting:

  • Some homes have extensive records of prior multiple referrals that have been screened out, ruled out, or unsubstantiated. For some homes, the history of referrals reveals a pattern of concerning conditions that went unaddressed until the current substantiation.
  • The records raise concerns regarding the quality of caseworker visits. While DHS data reports indicate visits are typically occurring monthly, it appears that significant issues/concerns may be going undetected by workers during these visits.
  • The records present concerns regarding the decisions to approve a foster home/ foster parent, particularly given their child welfare or criminal history.

Under the terms of the agreement, the state must achieve a good faith finding in all of the 21 target areas, and maintain that standard for a continuous period of two years.

“While the state is to be commended for the progress it has made in many areas, the safety and protection of children is the state’s highest responsibility,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, director of A Better Childhood and counsel for the plaintiff children. “It is alarming that Oklahoma has not made good faith efforts to address this fundamental problem, and the findings of the review conducted by the experts raise serious questions about the foster homes the Department is licensing and supervising.”

Fred Dorwart, local counsel for plaintiffs, stated:

Organizationally, the state is improving, but the unacceptably high rate of maltreatment in care at the case level indicates that driving the cultural change down to where it counts most continues to be challenge.

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, has been lead counsel in the D.G. v. Yarbrough lawsuit since the case was filed in 2008.

Printer-friendly version of the press release

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425

Categories
Oklahoma Press Releases

NEUTRAL EXPERTS REPORT SOME PROGRESS BUT CONTINUING PROBLEMS IN STATE’S EFFORTS TO IMPROVE OKLAHOMA’S FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM (04.29.16)

NEUTRAL EXPERTS REPORT SOME PROGRESS BUT CONTINUING PROBLEMS IN STATE’S EFFORTS TO IMPROVE OKLAHOMA’S FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM

Gains made by DHS are “fragile;” caseload levels have improved
but maltreatment in care and placement instability have not

D.G. v. Yarbrough, Case No. 08-cv-074-GKF, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma

In a report released today, the experts responsible for reporting on the state’s progress in improving the Oklahoma foster-care system, as required by the 2012 settlement of a federal class action, have found that the state has made some progress, particularly in the area of improving caseloads, but that gains overall are “fragile” and “in many instances have not taken root firmly within the agency.”

“It is deeply concerning that DHS may not maintain all planned activities in this reform effort due to Oklahoma’s reported revenue failures,” the report notes, adding, “Following the investment of new resources to set the agency on a trajectory of reform, it could be a shattering setback for children, DHS, and this reform if efforts now halt and progress is reversed.”

The experts are charged with the responsibility for determining whether the state has made “good faith” efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward the target outcomes they have set for the state in a number of performance areas. In this most recent report, these experts have found that the state has made such progress in reducing the use of shelter placements for children, and in achieving permanence for some children.

However, they have also found a lack of the “good faith” progress required by the settlement in some other areas, such as increasing the number of therapeutic foster homes, placement stability, and achieving permanency for older children. In many other areas, the co-neutrals have reserved judgment about the state’s good faith efforts but have noted that placement stability has worsened and that maltreatment of children in state custody in Oklahoma continues to be among the worst in the country.

“Progress under the settlement agreement has been slower than we have hoped and slower than the state’s children are entitled to,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, counsel for the plaintiff foster children. “But it is clear that progress can and must be made if the state lives up to its commitments. It would be a tragedy for Oklahoma children if the state does not.”

Frederic Dorwart in Tulsa is cocounsel for plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A Better Childhood is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that uses the courts to reform dysfunctional child welfare systems around the country. Marcia Robinson Lowry, A Better Childhood’s executive director, has been lead counsel in the D.G. v. Yarbrough lawsuit since the case was filed in 2008.

Printer-friendly version of the press release
Co-Neutral Commentary Six

For more information, please contact:

A Better Childhood
info@abetterchildhood.org
844-422-2425