Thursday, March 10, 2011

Report on Children, OKDHS and Legislation Part1

We have all seen the news stories of children in OKDHS custody or care that have been abused. A recent article here at OKGOVWATCH states that a new law, if passed would allow examinations of children suspected of being victims of neglect of abuse without the parent’s knowledge. Would this help in the reduction of such attacks on children?
A report recently released by the Center for the Support of Families shows 21.4 percent of children in the sample were the subject of a maltreatment allegation while in OKDHS custody that was substantiated or where there was sufficient concern to recommend services even though the allegation was not substantiated; 12 percent of children in the sample were the subject of a maltreatment allegation while in OKDHS custody that was substantiated. 78 percent of the alleged perpetrators of maltreatment of children in OKDHS custody were foster parents.

Only 8% of the children in the sample had been in a single, stable placement during their most recent entry into OKDHS custody. 54.8% of the children in the sample experienced four or more placement settings during their most recent entry into OKDHS custody; while 13.9% children experienced 10 or more placement settings. The most frequent reason given by OKDHS for moving children from the first to second placement was because they needed a less restrictive placement, raising concerns about the appropriateness of the children’s initial placements.

Many children moved from one short-term placement to another. Of children with at least two placements, almost three-quarters spent less than one month in the first placement. Of children with at least three placements, almost one-half spent less than one month in the second placement.
The report also showed that the appropriateness of the child’s permanency plan and steps taken to achieve the goal for the child were documented in less than two-thirds (62.3%) of the case plans, despite Federal and OKDHS requirements to include them in the case plans of all children in foster care.

Almost half did not have document services provided to the child despite OKDHS policy requiring this information in the case file.  Additionally, school performance records and health records were not found in 19% and 70% of the files respectively, even though federal regulations mandate this information be included in the child’s file.

In a case filed by Children’s Rights, one of the reasons given for these problems is high caseloads on the workers at DHS. They stated that DHS routinely assigns unreasonably high and dangerous caseloads to its employees that far exceed the national caseload standard of 12 to 15 children per caseworker. The OKDHS responded saying that OKDHS is one of only seven states in the nation that has a Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS).  This federally approved system documents caseloads of all child welfare workers.  The tracking system data verifies that permanency caseload workers generally have between 16 and 20 children per worker.

The most recent OKDHS report for FY 2009 shows that 952 or 5.88% of incidents of confirmed abuse or neglect came from a stepparent. Child care center employees were perpetrators in 331 cases, 238 were adoptive parents and 233 were foster parents. In total, 6% or 972 cases for FY2009 were from foster, adoptive or child care providers. In effort to change this, legislation has been approved by the Oklahoma House to require criminal background checks on adults living in a home where a foster child is to be reunited with a parent. The House voted 97-0 Wednesday for the bill by House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee and sent it to the Senate for consideration. Steele says the measure was inspired by the death of Aja Johnson, a 7-year-old girl who investigators believe was killed by her stepfather after he beat her mother to death last year. The stepfather then committed suicide.

The bill requires the Department of Human Services to conduct background checks on all adults before a foster child is reunited with a parent. Steele says background checks ensure that children in vulnerable situations are placed in a safe home.

SENATE BILL 674 requires background checks for foster parent eligibility assessment that shall be similar to the procedures used by the Department of Public Safety for determining suitability of an individual for employment as a highway patrol officer. These checks will be for employees of child care centers, persons 18 and older living in a child care facility and licensing to establish or operate a child care facility.

It is hoped that these changes and other related bills will bring a safer environment for children, especially those in the most vulnerable circumstances.  The Oklahoma Child Protection Act and HOUSE BILL 1967, which relates to placement of children in state custody, will be reviewed in detail in the coming days.  

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