The latest progress report on the state’s court mandate to improve its foster care system has some troubling findings, particularly around special needs children.
Officials with the Department of Human Services were forthright in notifying the independent monitors about problems. In the past year, about 50 children were shuffled between several short-term placements without proper services; five children who had experienced success in stable homes were moved to meet a bureaucratic change.
DHS stopped the practice when it was discovered.
In addition, there is a loss of therapeutic homes with foster parents trained to care for children with special needs including physical, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
These are among the most vulnerable children in Oklahoma, and the state must do better.
The Pinnacle Plan was implemented in 2012 to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged foster children were being abused and neglected while in state care. The ambitious improvement plan set out 31 goals in areas such as worker case load, number of foster homes and emergency shelter elimination.
Of those goals, only six have been met; 21 others are showing progress. Two have been deemed as having no good-faith effort to reaching the goal, and both are about the number of therapeutic foster homes available.
Oklahoma ranks N o. 1in the number of children experiencing two or more adverse childhood experiences at 28.5% of infants to 17-year-olds. Foster children are among the most traumatized.
The impact of this is felt in public schools, criminal justice system and the workforce. It’s a reflection of our social supports and overall community health that can last generations.
You can’t tell us that the state doesn’t have the resources and talents to deal with its foster children safely, humanely and legally.
DHS is tasked with ensuring the safety and success of children in its care, but it cannot do that alone.
More people need to consider becoming foster families or find ways to support foster parents. Lawmakers need to fund programs for children and youth, from child welfare to education to home visits for at-risk families.
Ultimately, Oklahomans need to stop the abuse and neglect of children, and that is going to take the work of everyone.