For the first time since the Oklahoma Department of Human Services began efforts to reform the state’s foster care system, monitors overseeing their progress gave the agency “good faith efforts” findings in reducing the rate of maltreatment in care--one of the core issues of the original lawsuit against the foster care system.
In their report issued April 28, 2017 the “co-neutrals”, as the monitors are called, determined DHS had made progress in reducing the incidents of abuse and neglect of children and youth in foster care. In their report, monitors determined DHS had made good faith efforts in 24 of the 31 measures and reserved judgement in six areas where they want to review a full year of data on new strategies for improvements in those areas. The only area in which DHS did not receive “good faith efforts” was in the number of older teens, 16-18 years old, who did not achieve permanency before turning 18 years old.
For this group of older youth, Child Welfare Services has developed targeted activities to help those youth achieve permanency through adoption or legal guardianship. One approach is to broadly search for relatives and kin who may not have been known early in the young person’s case. For teens that do not have any available or appropriate family members, CWS has developed partnerships to produce high-quality videos and news stories helping the youth to hopefully help them make connections with adoptive families. The teens are also being included in permanency meetings with staff to talk through their feelings about adoption and guardianship. Regardless, CWS continues to pursue permanency for every youth until they turn 18. DHS also provides a host of resources and services to all former foster youth who have been adopted and those who have aged out, supporting them to further their education beyond high school and to become successful adults.
“The Co-neutrals continue to recognize and cite the progress we are making to improve our foster care system,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “Although we would like to have attained “good faith efforts” across the board, we are still very close. We know what we need to do and have clear plans approved by the Co-neutrals for meeting those obligations. We continue to work on those plans and are confident we will achieve our goals.”
“The success of the reforms to the child welfare system are critical to ensuring the state can provide adequate protection and care to vulnerable Oklahoma children,” said Governor Mary Fallin. “The state of Oklahoma has invested more than $150 million since the beginning of the Pinnacle Plan. As we continue our work on the state budget it is especially critical that Oklahoma sufficiently fund the Pinnacle Plan to ensure DHS can continue to meet its obligations to improve the foster care system. It would be a huge step back to see any reduction in the Pinnacle Plan commitment.”
“I am extremely proud of the work our child welfare team does every day to improve outcomes for children in areas such as safety of children in care,” said Jami Ledoux, Child Welfare Services Director. “Our ultimate goal is to achieve long-term, sustainable progress in all areas related to safety, permanency, and well-being for children. We believe the changes we are making within our system will ensure that progress continues long after the Settlement Agreement is over.”
“While we remained focused on sustaining changes made earlier in the reform effort such as ensuring every child is placed with a family and providing manageable workloads for our staff, we can now work to improve the experiences of children within our system,” said Ledoux. “We continue to be grateful for all of our external partners who are working alongside us toward the same outcomes for the families we are serving.”
“This commentary reflects the continued progress of DHS in meeting the goals of the Pinnacle Plan,” said Tom Bates, Special Adviser to Governor Fallin on Child Welfare. “The good faith finding regarding efforts to reduce maltreatment in care is an especially significant milestone in this reform process. Sustaining progress in this most important area will require the continued implementation of strategies developed by DHS as well as the support of foster parents and group home providers.”
The "co-neutrals", as the monitors are called, issue reports every six months on the department's progress in 31 measurable targets and determine whether DHS has made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress.
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