Oklahoma Lawmakers plan to help improve DHS

By: Kristen Shanahan Email
By: Kristen Shanahan Email

ARDMORE, OK -- According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services 129 children have died while under their watch in the past 10 years. A growing number of lawmakers in the state say that is too many.

Some lawmakers say they have concerns with the number of children who have died under DHS's watch. They say they believe there are systematic issues that are getting in the way of front-line workers being able to do their jobs and having the full ability of performing their mission. That is why today House Speaker Kris Steele and other House members came up with a proposal they say will highlight where improvements can be made to produce better outcomes for children in DHS care.

"When a child could have been protected, and we didn't protect that child, and they were killed that is very very tragic," Senator Simpson said.

Oklahoma State Senator Frank Simpson says he and State Representative Pat Ownbey feel DHS needs to be under a microscope. Ownbey says lawmakers and DHS need to work together to make the agency better.

"There are a lot of problems. Today we are not here to criticize we're here to really focus on the structure of the Department of Human Services," Representative Ownbey said.

The House has come up with a four-pronged strategy to improve DHS.
The plan calls for a reform of government and agency structures along with personnel policy and resource allocation. They plan to send representatives of a special committee out into the field with front-line workers to explore some of the issues and challenges they face. DHS Communications Director Sheree Powell says this is a good way to make progress.

"When everyone is working together, talking to one another and working towards the same goal that's when you're going to make some huge accomplishments," Powell said.

Carter County DHS Director Linda Moore says she has 12 child welfare workers working about 150 cases. She says she definitely sees places where improvements can be made and looks forward to working closely with the committee.

"That's an opportunity for them to look at the challenges that workers face and the compensation that workers receive and I'm really excited that workers are going to be included in that process," Moore said.

Powell says no child death is ever acceptable to anyone in the agency, and they will do their best to make improvements to ensure they protect children to the best of their ability.

"I think it would be pure speculation for anyone to try to predict what the outcome will be or that we will never see another tragedy again, but we are working to prevent that to the best of our ability," Powell said.

Powell says legislators will be working closely with DHS until the next legislative session in February, where they will then discuss if a bill needs to be written to help further improvements.

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