D.G. v. Yarbrough

Plaintiffs: 9 foster children, aged 5 months through 16 years old, representing the class of over 11,000 Oklahoma foster children

About the Oklahoma Foster Care System

  • In 2012, Oklahoma and its Department of Human Services settled a federal class action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that the state routinely places foster care children in unsafe, unstable care, and fails to ensure permanence for them. The result is that Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of maltreatment in foster care in the country.
  • In the 2012 Compromise and Settlement Agreement (“CSA”), the state agreed to work over a five-year period with court-appointed “Co-Neutrals” to address systemic violations of the constitutional rights of children in its foster care system.
  • The co-neutrals monitoring the case have reported, in January, 2018, that “The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (“DHS”) has made discernible progress to improve its child welfare system during the course of this reform. The advancements made to date are fragile, and not yet fully rooted, particularly with respect to manageable caseloads and an adequate array of placements for children. Budget pressures loom large presently, and threaten the pace and progress of the overall reform effort at a critical time.”
  • Oklahoma continues to approve and license foster homes/parents, despite their child welfare or criminal history.
  • Oklahoma’s foster care children often remain in homes that have extensive documented records of concern.
  • Although the number of children in foster care has declined since the state signed the CSA five years ago, the state has failed consistently to develop the additional number of additional homes that it has promised.

Allegations

The state has made progress in some areas, particularly with regard to lowering caseloads, visitation of children by workers, and eliminating shelter use for very young children. But in other ways the state is still failing. Too many children are at imminent risk of harm while under the care of the state, and the state has failed to take adequate steps to remedy this problem. It has failed to develop an adequate array of services for children with the need for therapeutic foster homes, and many children have backed up in the shelter system. Serious concerns remain about the licensing and supervision of Oklahoma’s foster care homes. Despite some progress, Oklahoma is far from meeting the CSA’s targeted outcomes and two years of sustained progress.

Advocacy Goals

ABC seeks to enforce compliance with the CSA and ensure that Oklahoma’s children are protected in foster care in accordance with their constitutional rights. ABC will continue its vigorous monitoring of the Oklahoma’s progress until the state meets the CSA’s requirements.

Update

As of early 2018, it is seven years into the court-mandated monitoring period, and yet the state has not reached the target levels of compliance in most areas of the settlement agreement. Because the state is past the five year time period initially set to achieve compliance, the co-neutral monitors will be looking at the degree to which the state has actually achieved target outcomes, rather than just making efforts to achieve results or not even coming to grips with the problems. In March, 2018, the co-neutrals directed the state to close intake at the Laura Dester public shelter by this summer, which should have been closed more than two years ago. As the census has increased, so has the rate of maltreatment in the shelter. As long as this shelter remains open it will continue to be a dumping ground for children who have no place else to go. If the state does not agree to close the shelter, the co-neutrals will seek an order from the court, which plaintiffs can enforce. The state has to take responsibility for these children and immediately develop alternative placements for them.

Plaintiffs

Here are three of our plaintiffs, using pseudonyms

D.G. was a five-month-old infant boy who had been in the custody of DHS since shortly after his birth. Throughout his short life, DHS moved D.G. through at least four different placements. At an inadequately staffed emergency shelter, a DHS worker carried D.G. and another baby at the same time. Unable to manage the two infants, the worker dropped D.G. on his head, fracturing his skull. At the time of the complaint, DHS was still placing D.G. in temporary foster homes.

A.P. entered foster care at just two years old. At the time the complaint was filed, she was four years old. Throughout the eighteen months that A.P. was in DHS custody, she endured six placements, three within the first four days after her placement in DHS custody. When DHS placed A.P. in her father’s custody, he kicked her in the stomach and physically abused her. In addition, DHS workers failed to make required unannounced, face-to-face visits to ensure enforcement of a no-contact court order against A.P.’s mother. In A.P.’s fifth placement, a kinship foster home, a relative who had a prior history of child abuse sexually violated A.P. every night. A.P. also reported being sexually abused in her sixth foster home. DHS failed to investigate claims of abuse. Within 19 months of custody, A.P. had 27 DHS caseworkers and 23 supervisors.

At the time the complaint was filed, J.P. was a seven-year-old boy who had been in DHS custody for 18 months. DHS knowingly placed J.P. in foster homes where the caregivers mistreated the children in their homes. In J.P.’s 10th placement, his foster mother repeatedly physically abused him, twisting his arms, hitting him on the back of his head, and stepping on his back. In another home, J.P.’s foster parents beat him with a belt. In three of his placements, DHS required J.P. to stay in the homes, even after the agency received reports indicating abuse and harm. J.P. asked many times to be removed from several placements, but DHS ignored his requests or denied his maltreatment claims. During 21 months in DHS custody, he had 30 assigned caseworkers and 29 supervisors.

Case Documents

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