OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services says a recent report from a consultant hired to slam Oklahoma’s child welfare leadership is not independent and has no basis in fact.
Dr. Viola Miller, whose education is in speech pathology and special education, was paid an undisclosed sum by Children’s Rights, a New York-based group entrenched in a class-action lawsuit over Oklahoma’s foster care system. Miller’s report attacked the agency and its top managers making unsubstantiated claims and unfounded assumptions.
Undisclosed in the body of the report is the fact that Children’s Rights, in an e-mail dated Dec. 22, 2010, provided its prior management reports from lawsuits in the District of Columbia and Michigan to Miller as models for her summary. Testimonies from depositions were taken completely out of context. The result of Miller’s “study” was a predetermined conclusion.
Children’s Rights has consistently been critical of Oklahoma’s processes and successes as they are with all child protective agencies. The group, which claims to be an advocacy organization, has a well-established history of filing class-action lawsuits all around the country.
“We take our role in the protection of children very seriously,” said Howard Hendrick, Director, OKDHS. “Our agency promotes the most qualified, experienced persons to lead child welfare operations and there is no disconnect between policy and practice.”
“The work we do is huge and everyone is committed to continuously improving our child welfare services,” said Deborah Smith, Director of the Children and Family Services Division (CFSD). “We hold people accountable--case by case, county by county, program by program.”
Since 2007, Oklahoma has reduced its admissions to shelters by nearly 50 percent. The use of shelters significantly decreased after child welfare reforms in 2009 which removed standing orders for law enforcement.
“Children are not lingering in shelters but are there only long enough to have their kinship placements approved, background checks run on caregivers, or to be matched with the appropriate placement,” said Smith.
Smith, who has been the division director since July 2010, holds a Masters Degree in Social Work, has 13 years of child welfare experience in OKDHS, and served two years as a consultant to the National Resource Center in Washington, D.C. All of the program administrators and managers leading the various functions of OKDHS’ child welfare system have extensive education and experience. (See attached list of current CFSD Program Administrators education/experience)
Training for child welfare staff is delivered by the University of Oklahoma in Core Academy and is recognized as among the best training nationally. See this link for more information: http://www.ou.edu/cwtraining/misc.htm. (Link opens in new window)
Children’s Rights hired Zoran Obradovic to attack the agency’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (KIDS system) and made false allegations that the agency does not have any employees with computer science or computer programming background.
In fact, the group that programs the KIDS system consists of 10 dedicated programmers and seven contractors with varying degrees in computer science and mathematic, some with more than 20 years of experience with IT systems. These programmers work with child welfare experts in a single unit in a single location for a single purpose of assuring the highest quality information.
Children’s Rights, for the first time in its long history of litigation, is facing the most sophisticated computer system it has encountered, capable of responding to distorted case sampling by tracking hard data in real time for the universe of cases.
The quality of the OKDHS child welfare computer system is beyond question. All federal data is subjected to rigorous testing by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Each major release or upgrade is tested rigorously against a duplicate test database by IT experts at OKDHS and the University of Oklahoma prior to release.
Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to have a federally compliant SACWIS system, has maintained compliance for more than a decade, and is one of only nine states with a fully approved child welfare information system. Oklahoma’s system has been transferred to more states than any other and serves as the model in child welfare data tracking and management. See this link for verification http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/systems/stsChart.htm. (Link opens in new window)
“Children’s Rights cannot argue with the consistent, year-to-year improvements of Oklahoma’s child welfare system, “said Hendrick. “The safe reduction of the number of children in state care; the existence of one of only nine federally approved Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information Systems; the nation’s leader per capita in finalized adoptions over the past five years. It’s hard to argue with the results.”
Miller’s and Obradovic’s reports are typical of the reports Children’s Rights has purchased for lawsuits in other states. Miller recently left the Tennessee child welfare system after eight years of service as Secretary. That system, under Miller’s leadership was not as advanced in monitoring its own child welfare activities as Oklahoma.
According to the Administration for Children and Families, the federal government’s monitoring division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tennessee’s child welfare information system is in a “Pending Assessment Review” status--the beginning stage of being able to develop a federally compliant Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/systems/index.htm#sacwis. (Link opens in new window)