The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) has made “discernible progress” in its efforts to reform the state’s foster care system according to the child welfare experts, referred to as Co-Neutrals, monitoring the agency’s efforts to implement the Pinnacle Plan.
The latest commentary from the Co-Neutrals covering DHS’ performance through June 30, 2017, shows the agency is making good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress in almost every area of the system they are working to improve. In three areas--placement stability, therapeutic foster care, and the metric involving shelter use for children ages 6-12, the Co-Neutrals are reserving judgement to allow DHS more time to fully implement an enhanced set of “core strategies” which are expected to yield positive results for children and youth with the highest intellectual and emotional needs.
In their report, the Co-Neutrals make particular note of the state’s budget pressures which threaten “the pace and progress of the overall reform effort at a critical time.”
“The Co-Neutrals urge Oklahoma’s leaders to stay the course in funding DHS’ core strategies to achieve substantial and sustained progress on behalf of the state’s most vulnerable children. This includes the commitments to ensure that DHS has a sufficient number of well-trained and well supported foster homes and an adequate number of caseworkers and other key staff to achieve better outcomes for children. A material reversal in support is likely to compromise the still tenuous foundation upon which DHS has sought to build this reform, and undermine the years of public investment.”
Governor Mary Fallin said this report shows the state and DHS are making progress in strengthening child welfare services.
“My thanks go out to DHS employees for their hard work, as well as Oklahoma legislators for making the necessary financial commitment to support these important reforms,” said Fallin. “The success of the reforms to the child welfare system is critical to ensuring the state can provide adequate protection and care to vulnerable Oklahoma children. It is crucial that Oklahoma provide its full attention and adequate resources to ensure DHS can continue to meet its obligations to improve child welfare services.”
“We are gratified this report documents the progress being made in so many areas essential to the well-being of the children for whom we’re responsible,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “The support of Governor Fallin and the Legislature of our efforts over time has been absolutely central to our progress to date, and we are extremely grateful for the investments Oklahoma has made in the child welfare system,” said Lake. “That support is definitely still needed if we are to ultimately succeed in meeting the terms of our “settlement agreement” (the Pinnacle Plan) and maintaining a quality child welfare system.”
“The guidance and urging of the Co-Neutrals in creating sound strategies and the very hard work of our employees all across DHS and of our many service partners in effectively implementing those strategies are paying dividends,” said Lake. “And thanks, too, to the Plaintiffs, with whom we meet regularly, for their input and feedback on the specifics of our efforts. We are united in our desire to better serve the children and youth in our care.”
Jami Ledoux, Child Welfare Services Director, expressed her gratitude to those who have worked with the agency to help serve children and families.
“DHS cannot do this work alone and we believe our successes are shared by all Oklahomans who have stepped up to become foster families, to those who provide support to foster families and to biological families as they are reunited,” said Ledoux. “We greatly appreciate all of the agencies who work alongside us in providing services to the children in our care.”
In their report, the co-neutrals made note of the agency’s success in the recruitment of new foster homes. During the first half of the fiscal year 2017, DHS approved 431 new foster homes, the highest number of new homes DHS has approved during the first half of any fiscal year during this reform effort. They also noted DHS has continued its commitment to reducing incidents of abuse or neglect of children in its care and, for the first time, has exceeded its starting baseline on the target measure.
Tom Bates, Special Adviser to Governor Fallin and Interim Advocate General for the Office of Client Advocacy, said the progress DHS has made in this reform effort is remarkable. “I am particularly pleased with the progress to reduce abuse and neglect of children in our care. Many of the youth in DHS custody today have unique intellectual and behavioral needs, which makes caring for them extremely challenging. DHS’ trauma-informed approach is working but we will need additional resources to ensure these youth are safe and accepted in communities around the state.”
The co-neutrals also recognized the significant change in practice regarding placing children in emergency shelters and the agency’s efforts to ensure all potential family-based placements have been exhausted before a child enters a shelter. DHS has increased the number of children whose first placement was in a kinship home, either with relatives or someone they know. Data analysis and research has shown that these placements are more stable and reduce the chances of children experiencing a move while in foster care.
About the Pinnacle Plan
Since DHS began reforming its foster care system in 2012 through the Pinnacle Plan, the experiences of children who were victims of abuse or neglect have dramatically changed.
In Oklahoma today:
- Children are more likely to be able to safely remain in their own homes while their families get the help they need.
- Children first entering foster care are more likely to be placed with a family rather than in an emergency shelter.
- Children entering foster care are more likely to be placed with their own families or with someone they know.
92 percent of children in DHS custody are placed with families.
- Children are less likely to experience multiple moves while in care.
- Children are less likely to age out of foster care without legal permanency like adoption or guardianship.
- After reunification with their families, children are less likely to reenter foster care.
- DHS has safely reduced the number of children in state care by 23 percent (8,677 as of Dec. 2017) from a peak of 11,298 children in care Oct. 2014.
(Data can be provided upon request for each of these areas)
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