OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- According to the most recent data available as of Sept. 30, 2005, the average length of stay for children remaining in foster care in Oklahoma was 21.2 months. This is 7 months less than the national average of 28.8 months and is the shortest length of stay of any state contiguous to Oklahoma, except New Mexico which is 18.6 months.
Oklahoma’s shorter lengths of stay are in spite of higher rates of children in poverty, a leading contributor to children being the victims of abuse and neglect. In 2006, only 4 states had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than Oklahoma, which had 24.3 percent of its children living in poverty.
The most recent data also indicates the average child in Oklahoma’s foster care system experiences 2.9 placements while in out-of-home care. This is about average for this region. Children in Colorado and New Mexico experience 2.1 and 2.3 placements respectively. Children in Texas and Kansas experience 3.5 and 4.1 placements respectively.
Foster care is an emotional experience for children and their parents.
The Department hopes the Federal Court will realize that every case involving a child in the custody of the state of Oklahoma is unique and is judicially supervised by a State Court judge. Every child has his or her own attorney. Each parent also has legal representation. Duplicating the efforts of State Courts with Federal Court intervention seems unnecessary. The Department intends to study the plaintiff’s desires to determine whether the services they desire may already be present or can be improved and whether or not the best interests of children can be accomplished without the intervention of the Federal Court.
Some of the plaintiff’s claims allege an inadequate number of attorneys for children. Since attorneys for children are appointed by the State Courts, these allegations are beyond the control of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
All systems can be improved. The number of children in out-of-home care in Oklahoma is high. However, they are moving through Oklahoma’s child welfare system at faster rates than most of the contiguous states and faster than the national average.
Oklahoma has one of the best foster care monitoring systems of any state in the nation. According to a federal review of 2003 data, only 5 states – Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah – could document that at least 90 percent of their foster children received monthly caseworker visits. California and Massachusetts provided monthly visits to fewer than 90 percent, but more than 75 percent of foster children. Because of high levels of monitoring and self-reporting, OKDHS is able to document whether or not an incident involving child safety may be present.
Oklahoma was the first in the nation to achieve federally approved Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) compliance and is one of only 6 states to have such compliance to-date. SACWIS improves Oklahoma’s ability to monitor the well-being of children in care.
One admitted strain on the state’s foster care program is Oklahoma’s success with adoption. Many foster children are adopted by their foster parents. This requires the recruitment and training of new foster families. Oklahoma is consistently adopting record numbers of children out of foster care. Last year, a record 1,579 children were authorized for adoption. Since 1997 in Oklahoma, more than 10,000 former foster children have been adopted. For states of similar size, Oklahoma has consistently finalized more adoptions than comparable states.
All states are at different places in their respective strengths and challenges, and all can be improved. The Department looks forward to showing the strengths of Oklahoma’s system and improving it where appropriate.