The appearance DHS just is worried about the federal monies ,Not looking into growing number of kids in custody

January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

DHS looks into growing number of kids in custody

By JARREL WADE World Staff Writer on Sep 9, 2013, at 2:22 AM  Updated on 9/09/13 at 5:43 AM


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State Department of Human Services officials are working to figure out why the number of children in state custody has significantly increased, putting additional strain on the department’s progress to rehabilitate child welfare in Oklahoma.

Deborah Smith, DHS child welfare services director, said her department has a number of theories they are working to prove or disprove so that they can understand what led to a spike in several categories.

“There’s no magic answer,” Smith said. “You kind of have to look at all the different factors to really see what kind of strategies you’re going to put in place to reduce that population.”

A few of the leading theories, which could each prove to be part of the problem, include new staff that could be “overreacting” to their cases and the need for the child to be taken from the home, Smith said.

Steven Dow, a member of the Children and Families Citizen Advisory Panel and executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, said the current numbers are disconcerting, but it’s important to keep the long-term track in place.

“We want to be careful about not judging too quickly whether or not we’re making adequate progress, but I think on the other hand really focusing on the pieces that are the most important pieces,” Dow said.

Smith said the department’s analysis should be completed by the end of September, which could be used to stem the flood of children going into DHS custody along with other ongoing efforts.

Since July 2012, DHS officials have seen a 14 percent increase in the number of children in their care – from 9,132 to 10,487 on Sept. 1, according to DHS records.

The growth has affected a number of areas that DHS officials are working to improve through their Pinnacle Plan, Smith said.

The Pinnacle Plan was developed in response to a class-action lawsuit settlement reached last year. The child-welfare improvement plan sets deadlines for goals during the next several years.

Goals include having children spend less time in shelters, reducing DHS worker caseload and increasing staff retention.

The department achieved record lows for nights spent in shelters for infants ages birth to 1 year in January through April – almost eliminating the time children in that age group spent in shelters.

However, the numbers since May have risen to previous norms, according to the Pinnacle Plan’s monthly progress report.

The number of children ages 6 and older in shelters has continued to steadily increase during the last year with the highest numbers peaking in recent months.

“The fact that the shelter usage has gone up, I think, is very, very concerning because among the things that we identified as the highest priority involved eliminating shelter care for kids under 2 by the end of 2012,” Dow said. “While that happened temporarily, the fact that it’s going back up … it was designed to be a permanent end, not a temporary end.”

Smith said the effort to reduce case loads for child welfare workers are also short of where they would like to be.

A report on their caseload is due in October, Smith said.

While the caseload has not fallen to where officials would like it to be, Smith said the problem has been with retaining new workers.

Turnover – case workers leaving DHS – has actually increased during the last year among new workers, she said.

“I think in terms of these three areas that we have to make progress to ever get out of this settlement agreement,” Smith said. “And those are: reduce the number of children served in shelters, increase the number of foster parents, and No. 3 is reducing the number of cases that a worker is managing.”

Dow said the just-starting advisory panels will be able to focus on the core issues facing the Pinnacle Plan and to help the state agency determine where problems exist.

“Clearly, our advisory panel is focused on this issue, and I think will continue to be focused on this issue,” Dow said. “A broader message to the community is that DHS cannot do this work by itself.”

Dow said the community needs to support DHS by offering their homes as foster family homes.

“I still continue to feel like all the things that we said we wanted to do in the Pinnacle Plan are the right things to do.”

DHS monthly reports: August 2012 – July 2013

Nights in shelters for children ages 0-1
High: 349 in Sept. 2012
Low: 7 in March
Most recent: 180 in July

Nights in shelters for children ages 2-5
High: 1.415 in August 2012
Low: 493 in March
Most recent: 845 in July

Nights in shelters for children ages 6-12
High: 4,113 in May
Low: 2,585 in Oct. 2012
Most Recent: 4,006 in July

Nights in shelters for children ages 13 and older
High: 4,114 in April
Low: 2,801 in Sept. 2012
Most recent: 4,056 in July


Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367


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