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.

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Co-Neutral Commentary Six

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