FOSTER-CARE EXPERTS REPORT THAT STATE IS NOT IMPROVING IN SOME AREAS AND DOING WORSE IN OTHERS
Judgment is reserved as to whether DHS is making “good-faith efforts” in the majority of performance areas.
D.G. v. Yarbrough, Case No. 08-CV-074-GKF-FHM, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma
More than three years into the Settlement Agreement resolving a class-action lawsuit, D.G. v. Yarbrough, asserting constitutional violations in the operation of the state’s child welfare system, Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services is not improving in crucial areas and is even getting worse in some, according to a new report issued on Thursday.
The report was issued by the court-approved “Co-Neutrals” who are responsible for monitoring and evaluating the state’s performance and for determining whether the state is making good faith efforts “to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward the target outcome.” After evaluating the state’s efforts, the Co-Neutrals found that the state had made some good faith efforts in eight areas, had failed to make good faith efforts in four, and reserved judgment in 18 areas. Under the Settlement Agreement, these Co-Neutrals are authorized to issue remedial orders to DHS if they find that the state fails to achieve positive trending or begins to trend negatively in any area.
In its most recent report, the Co-Neutrals found some things improving:
- Workers are visiting children in foster-care placement within required time periods;
- Young children are rarely being placed in shelters; and
- A large backlog that had been created in completing investigations of abuse and neglect has been significantly reduced, although this only took place after the Co-Neutrals issued a remedial order requiring the backlog reduction.
However, in other areas:
- Safety for children in foster care, a major problem identified in the lawsuit, is not improving;
- DHS continues to place increased numbers of children 13 and over in shelters, despite a commitment to reduce shelter use overall;
- DHS has failed to increase the number of new foster homes and therapeutic foster homes at the required rate, with the result that there are too few placements for children who need them;
- Case loads have been reduced, but only “modestly,” and too many workers have caseloads which exceed required levels; and
- DHS is doing worse on providing permanency for children, with outcomes worse now than at the beginning of the reform.
“This is a very disturbing report at this stage, more than three years after the state made a binding commitment to improve the protection and treatment of these vulnerable children,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, counsel for plaintiffs and director of A Better Childhood, a national child-advocacy organization. “In order to protect our clients, we have no choice but to ask the Co-Neutrals to issue additional remedial orders, since the state is failing to make adequate progress on its own in too many critical areas and still hasn’t even developed necessary or effective strategies to address some of these problems.”
Fred Dorwart, local counsel for plaintiffs, stated: “That the Department has achieved so little and is actually backsliding in crucial areas is difficult to comprehend. When the federal District Court approved the Settlement Agreement, it should have been obvious the foster care system was in a crisis—it still is, more than three years later.”
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.