OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has received the latest co-neutrals commentary for progress on the Pinnacle Plan, the state's foster care reform plan. Supporting families, protecting children and providing permanency for youth in state care are at the heart of the True North goals for Child Welfare Services and the agency is pleased to see the continued positive progress made in these areas recognized in the commentary.
According to the co-neutrals, OKDHS has made good-faith efforts in 28 of the 30 performance areas during this reporting period, ending June 30, 2019, approximately two weeks into Justin Brown's tenure as the new director of the agency.
"Families kept whole through improved practice models within the state's child welfare system, collaborative partnerships between state agencies to better serve our shared customers and communities taking care of their neighbors are the foundations of OKDHS' True North," said Director Justin Brown. "We recognize that there is still progress to be made and we are hard at work modernizing our business practices and implementing self-correcting controls where necessary in order to achieve the goals laid out in the Pinnacle Plan, as well as our own True North goals."
Data through the end of the reporting period in June 2019 showed 7,908 children and youth in state custody. This was the second lowest number since reform efforts began in SFY 2013 and is representative of the agency's efforts to support families while children remain in their own homes. When children had to be placed into state custody, 93 percent of them were living in family settings with the majority of children placed with people they knew (relative or non-relative kinship placements). The use of emergency children's shelters has been significantly reduced statewide, by 74 percent, since the Pinnacle Plan was implemented, and shelter use completely eliminated for children birth through one year of age since SFY 2016. DHS has closed both of its state-run shelters and partners with locally-run Youth Services shelters when needed.
"We have continued to improve in successfully achieving permanency for children, either because they are reunified with their own families or have a permanent family through adoption or guardianship," said Dr. Deborah Shropshire, OKDHS Child Welfare Director. "We have seen the number of children and youth in foster care decline, which is partially due to ensuring they don't linger in the system but also because we are serving more families through preventative programs in their own homes before foster care is even needed. We are also hard at work improving our business practices to better serve our customers, including filling vacant child welfare staff positions. In fact, we are fully staffed in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties for the first time in many years. This is a critical step in our ability to better serve the children and youth of our state."
While OKDHS has made great strides in recruitment of traditional and kinship foster families, both of the performance measures for which the agency did not receive positive progress were related to having available foster homes that can provide for the therapeutic needs of children in state care. These needs include treatment and management of behavioral health, physical health, developmental disabilities or a combination of these needs. The agency continues to seek foster families in every community across the state to serve this population of children. OKDHS is working closely with therapeutic foster care agencies and building even stronger relationships with partner agencies, including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, to develop additional services and supports for foster families willing to care for children who require a higher level of care. The agency is also working side-by-side with the Therapeutic Foster Care agencies' recruitment staff to identify families willing to provide care for children in need.
Families interested in learning more about how they can become a certified foster family in their local community can visit https://okfosters.org/ or call 1-800-376-9729. Interested Oklahomans may also visit https://www.ourokdhs.org/s/ to raise their hand and join the agency's efforts to better serve the community through innovation and collaborative partnerships.
About the Pinnacle Plan
In January 2012, OKDHS settled a class-action lawsuit filed against its foster care system by a child advocacy group. As a result of this settlement, OKDHS created, and in SFY 2013 began to implement, the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan which was a measurable plan to improve the foster care system. The three out-of-state child welfare experts referred to as "co-neutrals," issue reports every six months on OKDHS' progress and determine whether the agency has made good faith efforts to make improvements in the state's foster care system. This latest report covers a period of time ending June 30, 2019.