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Point of View: Path forward for DHS begins with strong partnerships

Justin Brown
Justin Brown

How state government serves Oklahoma's citizens is changing, and I believe the impact of that change can be nothing short of transformational. At the Department of Human Services, a new vision is being forged for how the state’s largest agency prioritizes its customers. We know more than ever that it is incumbent upon us to be better partners for those we serve.

Since its inception, DHS has been largely reactive to some of Oklahoma's biggest issues. The agency’s 6,000-plus employees have been equipped with a limited set of tools to respond to these issues that are often crises. History has seen the agency repeat the pattern of resolving a crisis, then moving to the next.

The path forward looks different. We will give our full efforts to resolving crisis well, but we won't allow crisis to paralyze our larger mission. We are shifting away from a culture of continual crisis response and focusing on finding a better way to be of service.

This better way moves the agency into a prevention space; working to give families the resources they need before a crisis ever begins. We are expanding our set of tools beyond those available through the agency alone and relying on the resources of our partners in the community. By working more strategically with nonprofits, service providers and other state agencies, we can more proactively serve families in need. Thanks to recent structural reforms in state government made by the people of Oklahoma, the Legislature and the governor, we are embracing collaboration across multiple channels in an unprecedented way.

Like never before, we are meeting regularly with the Department of Health, the state Department of Education, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Mental Health, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and others to share goals and build joint systems and programs to work on specific cases. We are shedding territorial control and personal ambition in favor of partnership to benefit the state.

Our conversations are growing into productive, constructive relationships at the highest level, with the goal of changing the culture of state government. Evidence of this transformation can be seen as we have shifted away from broad policy topics to discussing specific cases to quickly remove barriers to get Oklahomans the services they need and deserve.

Our respective teams come to the table with the names of those we are serving, knowing that our counterparts are committed to solving issues on a person-by-person basis. We are embracing the work needed to create lasting transformational change.

We’ve seen evidence that these same conversations and partnerships are happening across all of state government. The path forward is different. We can and will construct a future that is better for those in need. We know this is only the beginning and invite others to join us.

Brown is director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.