Oklahoma City—The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) received the second commentary from the “co-neutrals” overseeing the Department’s implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, a five-year improvement plan of its foster care system.
DHS settled a class-action lawsuit in January 2012 by agreeing to make targeted improvements in a range of areas to improve services for children in its care. Under the settlement agreement, the co-neutrals are required to provide commentary twice a year on overall progress and good faith efforts by DHS to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward targeted outcomes identified in the settlement agreement.
“We are pleased the co-neutrals recognize the efforts of our staff and the formidable challenges we are facing. Obviously, we are disappointed with a couple of the co-neutral’s findings especially as we believe we have made good faith efforts to achieve progress in every area of the Pinnacle Plan, even though we certainly must acknowledge having missed some of the target dates,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “It has been an uphill battle at almost every turn with the unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of children being placed in state custody. That fact alone has affected key goals in the Pinnacle Plan.
“The pace of a few of our initiatives hasn’t been what we all wanted it to be, but that certainly hasn’t been for lack of effort or support for our work,” said Lake. “Our incredibly dedicated caseworkers, supervisors and managers are making extraordinary efforts to improve our system. We believe progress is being made, even with the number of children in our care, and the data supports our belief.
“We appreciate the on-going efforts of the co-neutrals in pushing us to achieve and sustain the best possible child welfare system for the children we are charged to protect, but no one is pushing us harder than we’re pushing ourselves,” Lake said.
The data shows:
• As the co-neutrals found, DHS has virtually eliminated shelter use for children under 2 years old and has greatly reduced shelter use for children under 6 years old.
• Child Welfare Specialists caseloads are improving through the hiring of more than 600 front-line workers, supervisors, and child welfare assistants. Turnover rates are also improving.
• DHS has consistently met the monthly expectation for worker visits with children in foster care. Caseworker visits help to ensure the safety and well-being of children, support foster parents, and monitor the effectiveness of services.
• DHS has reformed investigative procedures and responses to alleged abuse and neglect for children in its custody.
• DHS met the FY2013 goal of foster parent recruitment and will come close to meeting the FY2014 goal. Unfortunately, because of the increase of children in the foster care system, just meeting the goals will still not yield enough families. Recruitment efforts and public awareness are beginning to pay dividends. As the numbers of people interested in fostering and adopting continue to increase, so will the number of approved homes.
The co-neutrals have commended DHS on the quality and responsiveness of its data team. DHS and the co-neutrals continue to work on defining data and how some of the targets in the plan will be measured.
“This is not the same Department it was two years ago,” said Lake. “We are headed in the right direction but it will take time to get where we want to be. This is only the second year of a five-year improvement plan and we still have much work ahead.
“We are extremely grateful to Governor Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature for their continuing support and the investments they have made to enable these improvements. The state’s financial investment has been considerable and it’s clear this critical work to improve our child welfare system is a high priority,” Lake said.
Ongoing DHS efforts:
• Working with nationally recognized experts to implement actions to reduce the number of children in the foster care system—improving safety planning and removal decisions and involving families more intensively in the process.
• Increasing investments for in-home services to help prevent children from coming into foster care and to support children returning home more quickly when their safety can be assured.
• Focused efforts with foster care and permanency planning staff to help children reunite with families or reach adoption faster.
To view the Co-Neutral Commentary Two, issued April 30, 2014, follow this link: http://www.public-catalyst.com/our-work/reports-and-publications/
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