NATIONAL EXPERTS FIND OKLAHOMA STILL FAILING FOSTER CHILDREN

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

In a report released today, the three national experts monitoring Oklahoma’s progress in meeting settlement requirements in the class-action foster care lawsuit D.G. vs. Yarborough find that necessary advancements have not been made by the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS)  and that “in some areas, most critically safety for children in the care and custody of DHS, the department’s efforts have been inadequate.”

This is the first time since the very beginning of the process that the co-neutrals have identified so many areas of “absence of good faith efforts” since they have been issuing Commentaries.  In earlier reports, there have been far fewer such findings, or the co-neutrals have reserved judgment in many areas, without finding an absence of good faith.

Examining data available through December 31, 2017 on seven core performance categories, the Co-Neutrals find that while DHS made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward Target Outcomes in some areas, it did not do so in nine performance areas, and in fact had not made “good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress” in those areas.  The co-neutrals can seek specific orders from the federal court in any of these “absence of good faith” areas, if they determine such orders are necessary.  Key findings for these critical performance areas include [quoted from report verbatim]:

Maltreatment (abuse and neglect) of children in the state’s legal custody

  • Children in DHS custody continue to experience abuse and neglect at an alarmingly high rate in both foster homes and institutional settings.

Development of foster homes and therapeutic foster homes (TFC) [therapeutic foster care]:

  • Oklahoma’s net loss of foster homes has been an ongoing problem. For the sixth consecutive period, DHS reported having fewer TFC homes to serve children in DHS custody at the end of the report period compared to the beginning of the period.
  • While DHS has made important strides toward its goal of eliminating shelter care for the youngest children in DHS custody, it has not achieved this critical progress for children six years of age and older who continue to be placed too often in shelters across Oklahoma.

Reduction in the number of children in shelters:

  • While DHS has made important strides toward its goal of eliminating shelter care for the youngest children in DHS custody, it has not achieved this critical progress for children six years of age and older who continue to be placed too often in shelters across Oklahoma…. For this period, DHS reported a nearly 30 percent increase in the number of shelter nights children ages six to twelve experienced.

Manageable caseloads for child welfare staff:

  • DHS did not make gains in the number of caseworkers meeting caseload standards, and in fact, reported a decline in caseload performance…. Of the 21 districts not meeting 90 percent caseload compliance at the end of the period, seven districts reported having 50 percent or fewer caseworkers meeting the caseload standard.

“It is unacceptable that foster children in Oklahoma are still not safe while in state care,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of A Better Childhood and Co-Lead Counsel on D.G. vs. Yarborough. “This latest report from the monitors is an urgent statement that DHS is in jeopardy of increased federal court involvement unless DHS acts immediately to meet its court-ordered obligations. It may well be that the only thing that will result in better and stronger actions from the state agency will have to come in explicit orders from the federal court.”

Co-Lead Counsel, Frederic Dorwart of the law firm Frederic Dorwart Lawyers in Tulsa, OK stated, “The national foster care experts rightly acknowledge that the Department of Human Services has made progress in some areas, but they also point out precisely where, why and how the state has failed to meet crucial outcomes to which it agreed.  Some of the most disturbing findings are a continuing high rate of abuse and neglect for children in foster homes and institutions as well as the increase in the number of children spending nights housed in shelters. The state can and must do better in caring for our most vulnerable children.”

In 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma approved Eileen Crummy, Kathleen Noonan, and Kevin Ryan as “Co-Neutrals,” and charged them to evaluate and render judgment about the ongoing performance of DHS to strengthen its child welfare system to better meet the needs of vulnerable children, youth, and families. In their latest report, Co-Neutral Tenth Commentary, today looked at the core performance areas and whether DHS has “made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress” toward a Target Outcome under each of the following:

  1. Maltreatment (abuse and neglect) of children in the state’s legal custody (MIC);
  2. Development of foster homes and therapeutic foster homes (TFC);
  3. Regular and consistent visitation of caseworkers with children in the state’s legal custody;
  4. Reduction in the number of children in shelters;
  5. Placement stability, reducing the number of moves a child experiences while in the state’s legal custody;
  6. Child permanency, through reunification, adoption or guardianship;
  7. Manageable caseloads for child welfare staff;

The full report can be found here

A Better Childhood, (ABC) is a national child welfare advocacy organization that represents foster children in dysfunctional child welfare systems. In Oklahoma, Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry is co-lead counsel along Frederic Dorwart of the law firm Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers in Tulsa, OK. Lowry is also lead counsel in foster care lawsuits in Minneapolis, MN, Mississippi, New Jersey, Texas, New York City, and the District of Columbia.

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For more information, please contact:

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