Public's help needed to meet Oklahoma foster care demand
The latest critique of the Department of Human Services’ child welfare practices provided considerable positive news and one particularly distressing concern. Our hope is that the latter can be addressed while improvements continue in the other areas.
The report issued last week came from three out-of-state experts who monitor the state’s compliance with a 2012 agreement that settled a federal class-action lawsuit against DHS.
The experts file two reports per year. Their previous one was mostly positive, and said DHS had made good-faith efforts to make substantial and sustained progress in 29 of the 31 target areas. The latest report also included several highlights. These include a 37% reduction in the number of children abused in foster care settings during the most recent reporting period, reductions in worker caseloads, fewer uses of children’s shelters and the recruitment of 810 traditional foster homes.
A primary concern cited by the monitors, however, was a continuing slide in the number of therapeutic foster homes, which cater to children with behavioral health needs. The overseers have warned repeatedly that Oklahoma needs more such homes, yet their number has fallen 82% since reforms began.
The monitors said kids who need therapeutic foster care (TFC) aren’t getting it “either because of a lack of available TFC homes or a determination by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) that they are ineligible for this level of care based on the criteria established by the state of Oklahoma.”
The report highlighted problems DHS has had trying to get authorization from the Health Care Authority to place children in therapeutic foster care. Monitors also said DHS seemed to make problems of its own when it tried to create a new category of foster homes to take care of kids with greater behavioral needs than children already authorized for TFC placement.
The report also criticized DHS for adding trauma to about 50 TFC kids by placing them in short-term placements for a brief time while trying to identify more suitable placements — a practice monitors said was ended soon after Justin Brown became DHS director in June.
Brown wasn’t in charge during most of the period covered in the latest report, and says his team has put considerable work into fixing the TFC problem. DHS officials also say the agency’s work and communication with the Health Care Authority have improved in the past several months. That’s encouraging.
Meantime, the head of DHS’s child welfare division, Deb Shropshire, made two important points in commenting on the latest report. The first is that the decline in TFC homes has occurred over many years. The second is that reversing the slide will require help not just from other agencies, but from Oklahomans willing to serve as foster parents and therapeutic foster care parents.
“I think we feel pretty confident in the strategies and … the partnership efforts that have happened over the last six months,” Shropshire told The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis. “We really hope to see a reversal in that trend.”
The agency needs the public’s help, though. If interested, visit okdhs.org or call (800) 376-9729.