Oklahoma System

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Oklahoma System

Postby Marina » Sun Aug 26, 2007 10:11 am



Complaints Aired About DHS Foster Parent Guidelines

AP - 8/25/2007 7:26 PM - Updated 8/25/2007 8:13 PM

A published report says guidelines that allow Oklahoma Department of Human Services workers to also become foster parents have led to some complaints. They include one from a former DHS supervisor who reported to the DHS inspector general that a worker was allowed to be a foster mother even though she once punched another woman and her husband had an assault conviction.

Another complaint came from a mother trying to get her three sons back. She claims she is being treated unfairly because the boy's foster mother was a DHS worker. One boy was seriously injured this year while in foster care.

The Oklahoman reports in Sunday's editions that the agency banned workers from becoming foster parents until 1999. The ban had been in place to avoid the appearance of favoritism and conflicts of interest.


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 19, 2008 1:56 pm



Bleak Stories Follow a Lawsuit on Oklahoma Foster Care

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Published: April 16, 2008

From age 4, when she was taken from her drug-using mother, until she turned 18 last year and left the foster care system, Sasha Gray moved a total of 42 times. There were emergency shelters, foster homes, group homes, a brief trial with her mother and short stays in psychiatric care because of defiant behavior.

When she complained that a foster father had climbed into her bed in his underwear, she was moved again, but state workers kept placing other children in the same house until the man was arrested for molesting his niece.

“Instead of properly investigating it, they let it slide,” Ms. Gray said. She now lives with an aunt and despite the traumatic churning of homes and “parents,” she finished high school and is studying to be a nurse.

Ms. Gray’s stories of displacement and abuse while in state custody are unusually common in Oklahoma, according to a new lawsuit and many lawyers, foster parents, former foster children, volunteer mentors and even state employees.

Federal data shows that Oklahoma consistently has one of the worst records in the country of documented abuse of children in foster or group homes. In addition to frequent moves and extended stays in overcrowded shelters, the system is short of foster parents, social workers and needed therapies.

All this has exposed many children to lasting psychological damage, including an inability to form emotional bonds, according to the lawsuit, a class-action filed in February by Children’s Rights, an advocacy organization, and several local lawyers.

Child advocates here are using the federal courts, as they have in more than a dozen other states and cities over the last 20 years, to push for an overhaul of the child welfare system. In an inherently difficult field, often plagued by inadequate staffing and financing, such suits have brought major improvements.

Alabama, for example, at the time of a 1988 lawsuit, had one of the worst records of protecting children and preserving families. Last year, 14 years of court monitoring ended after the state quadrupled its spending on child welfare and cut caseloads to 18 from 50.

Ira Lustbader, a lawyer for Children’s Rights, said of Oklahoma, “This is one of the most dangerous systems for kids in custody we’ve ever seen.”

The state’s Department of Human Services is fighting the suit, saying its system, like any other, has strengths and weaknesses. Officials cite their high adoption rate for foster children as a success, for example, though they admit to shortages of social workers and foster parents.

“Oklahoma is very aggressive at protecting children,” said Gary Miller, a former judge who was named director of the child and family services division in March, after the suit was filed.

But Dynda Post, a district judge for three counties northeast of Tulsa, said, “The entire system is broken, and there’s a lack of accountability to the courts.”

“If you order a child to get counseling, say for rape or physical abuse or if they’re mentally challenged, sometimes you see that kid in custody for months with no treatment,” Judge Post said.

And when things go wrong, “no one is accountable,” she said.

If the federal court agrees that the case can proceed, a possible outcome, based on the experiences of other states, is eventual agreement on a court-monitored program of change. The state could be required to hire more caseworkers, for example, and to provide more psychiatric services to parents and children, to improve emergency shelters and to develop a strategy to attract more foster parents.

In Judge Post’s own purview, 3-year-old Blake Ragsdale, who was born addicted to methamphetamine and had cerebral palsy and other serious disorders, died last year during a trial reunification with his mother that state workers had arranged without the required court permission.

Blake had been removed because of his mother’s drug use and neglect. When he was returned to her last year, the state had still not given her special training to meet his medical needs, she was unemployed and had no phone or car — over all, she was “woefully unequipped to take care of Blake’s special medical needs,” the lawsuit says.

State officials said they were doing their best to cope with a rising number of children in the system, nearly 16,000 during the second half of 2007 and nearly 8,000 on any given day.

In a statement, the Human Services Department said its good record of monthly checks on foster families meant that more safety problems were discovered, not that abuses were more frequent than in other states. But many foster parents and children said that monitoring records were often falsified by harried workers or that untrained aides made visits.

“I went years without seeing a caseworker,” Ms. Gray said, adding that in one four-month period she was assigned three different workers.

The threat to children is broader than records indicate, critics say, including three state workers who spoke anonymously to protect their jobs. The suit describes an 11-month-old girl, identified as C.S., who was taken soon after birth from a drug-addicted mother and has lived in 17 homes, shelters and hospitals since then.

At one point, she was placed with a relative, who threw her against a wall and fractured her skull, the lawsuit says. Many placements later, she had respiratory disease, and a foster parent had her tested for allergies and discovered that she had multiple sensitivities, including to cats and dogs. The household had pets, so she was moved again.

One reason for the foster-parent shortage is the state’s low payments. But more important, foster parents say, is frustration.

“Great foster parents will identify a child’s needs, call D.H.S. for help and get nothing back,” said Anne B. Sublett, president of a lawyers’ group in Tulsa that represents foster children in court.

Caseworkers, who are supposed to monitor foster homes regularly and connect children with services, often have more than 50 clients, compared with the 12 to 15 recommended by professional groups.

Because the work is stressful and the pay is low, starting at $26,000, turnover is high and many case workers are young and inexperienced.

Many states keep emergency homes on call, for temporary placement of children removed from dangerous households. In Oklahoma, such children go instead to large shelters, where they sometimes spend many months waiting for a placement in conditions that some say are unsafe and unpleasant.

Destiny Emmons, 15, spoke recently after spending five weeks in the Oklahoma City shelter; she was removed from her mother’s house after the mother’s ex-boyfriend molested a younger half-sister. Destiny was angry at her removal, and imminent placement in a foster home, saying she wanted to stay with her mother.

In the shelter, as Destiny described it, teenagers just sit in a room watching a television when not in school. She said they had to go to bed at 9 each night and had to ask an attendant to unlock the bathroom.

One of the state workers, who has spent time in the overcrowded shelter in Tulsa, said that staff members were not trained to deal with special medical needs, like heart monitors and feeding or breathing tubes, and that no nurses were on duty at night to help in a crisis. At Christmas, rats and mice ran among the presents under the tree, the worker said.

Ms. Gray, now 19, is grateful to a volunteer mentor, Buddy Faye Foster, who was a constant presence through her whirlwind of moves and who helped fight for needed counseling, took her shopping, even helped her obtain a birth certificate. Ms. Foster also encouraged her to speak out for her interests, which sometimes led to conflicts with families or caseworkers.

Still, Ms. Gray noted, suffering is relative.

“I’ve been blessed,” she said. “All my homes haven’t been horrible.”


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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 16, 2008 7:26 pm

http://newsok.com/oklahoma-dhs-wants-cu ... le/3280165

Thu August 7, 2008
Oklahoma DHS wants curtailed discovery process
By The Associated Press

TULSA -- A federal magistrate says he will hand down a ruling soon on a request by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Wednesday to curtail the pretrial discovery process in a lawsuit that seeks top-to-bottom reform of the state's child welfare system.

The agency has asked that the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, be dismissed and claims that a massive pretrial discovery effort is premature.

But attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry, representing the plaintiffs, said asking DHS to produce records it presumably already has and taking a reasonable number of depositions is not asking too much.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 13, alleges that DHS routinely places children who are in state custody in unsafe situations in which many suffer further abuse and even death.

The plaintiffs are nine children ranging in age from 4 months to 16 years who the lawsuit alleges suffered in DHS placements.

However, attorneys have asked the court to certify a class of about 11,000 children and make the lawsuit a class-action. DHS has challenged that effort and has also asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. Those motions are still pending before U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell.

On Wednesday, attorney Thomas Askew, on behalf of DHS officials named in the lawsuit, told the court that the agency has already provided more than 90,000 pages of materials connected to the nine plaintiffs.

Askew said coming up with the sort of more general information now sought would impose a massive, costly and unnecessary burden on DHS.

Lowry replied, though, that the experiences of these nine children are indicative of what is happening throughout Oklahoma's foster-care system. She said more information is requested in an attempt to understand further how that system operates.

Askew said DHS takes its responsibilities regarding children very seriously. The department previously released a statement saying that although all systems can be improved, federal court intervention is not necessary.

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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 23, 2008 6:01 pm

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article. ... utmo760428

Magistrate allows some discovery in DHS lawsuit

By DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer

But more fact-finding is on hold until other rulings are made in the child-welfare case.

A federal magistrate has decided that the pretrial discovery process can proceed to a limited extent in a lawsuit that seeks top-to-bottom reform of the state's child welfare system.

However, U.S. Magistrate Frank McCarthy granted the request of attorneys representing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to issue a stay that will prevent more general fact-finding until a U.S. district judge rules on motions to dismiss the case.

"The scope of full scale discovery in this case is potentially very broad and may prove to be very expensive and time-consuming," McCarthy wrote, adding that "any immediate concerns for the well being of individual children can be addressed through the state system."

McCarthy's order, posted on the court's Web site Monday, said "merits related" discovery may proceed regarding the nine current plaintiffs, who are identified in public documents only by their initials.

The lawsuit alleges that DHS routinely places children who are in state custody in unsafe situations in which many suffer further abuse and even death.

The plaintiffs are nine children who ranged in age from 4 months to 16 years when the case was filed Feb. 13 in federal court in Tulsa. Although the lawsuit alleges that those nine suffered in DHS placements, attorneys have asked the court to certify a "class" of about 11,000 children and make the complaint a class action.

DHS has challenged that attempt and has also asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. Those motions are still pending before U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell.

Last Wednesday, defendants' attorney Thomas Askew told the court that DHS has already provided more than 90,000 total pages of material connected to the nine plaintiffs. He said coming up with the sort of more general information now sought would impose a massive, costly and unnecessary burden on DHS.

McCarthy ruled that the allowable fact-finding tasks regarding the nine plaintiffs include complete production of relevant documents, depositions of workers involved with the nine children and disclosure of information concerning the training and caseloads of those workers.

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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 01, 2008 7:06 pm

http://newsok.com/dead-foster-childs-ok ... le/3326193

Dead foster child’s Oklahoma family will hold separate service
Published: November 29, 2008

The biological family of a 5-year-old boy who was hit by a car and killed while in state Department of Human Services custody will not be allowed to attend his funeral and burial, but the state is granting them a private memorial service.

John Brian Gifford, who was in the care of a foster family, died Tuesday when he was hit by a car that a 13-year-old girl had started to warm the engine. Investigators said the girl accidentally allowed the vehicle to roll back when she started it, and when she pulled it forward again, she ran over the boy.

The families are not allowed to know the day and time of the funeral and burial. Parents Samantha Jo Cleary of Oklahoma City and Melvern Gifford of Midwest City were divorced before they lost custody of John, but both sides of the family said they are thankful they can say their goodbyes at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sunny Lane Funeral Home.

Grandmother ‘just about came unwound’
Nita Havlik, John’s paternal grandmother, said she was reminded how much she needed closure when she went shopping for Christmas gifts Friday.
"I was picking up things for the grandchildren, and I had subconsciously tried to buy the baby a Christmas present before I realized I couldn’t do that and just about came unwound in the store,” she said. "I just had to leave after that.”

The grandmother said she is not allowed to see or buy gifts for John’s three brothers who are still in foster care, and she does not expect to get to see them at the service.

"I don’t even know if the other children even know their little brother is gone, and no one is going to tell us if they know,” she said.

Samantha Cleary said she and her mother, Dewanna Cleary, also are thankful DHS is allowing them to hold a service with their own minister and song choices, but Samantha Cleary said she would really like to see her other four children who are still in DHS custody.

"I still need to know that they are OK,” she said.

Havlik said she is glad DHS allowed the biological family to put together a memorial service rather than just letting them walk in and walk out for a viewing, but she had criticism of DHS — describing its power as unchecked.

"I still want to make the public aware that DHS has so much control that they can manipulate your life and never even look you in the eye,” she said. "I want people in Oklahoma to wake up and realize this could happen to you. All someone has to do is tell something ugly about you.”

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Postby Marina » Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:36 pm

http://newsok.com/oklahoma-foster-syste ... le/3327532

Oklahoma foster system in "severe disarray," lawsuit claims
Published: December 4, 2008

TULSA — Nine Oklahoma foster children were bounced around among 176 primary caseworkers because of “severe disarray” within DHS, attorneys said in documents filed Thursday in Tulsa federal court.

The state Department of Human Services also had 125 secondary workers and 190 supervisors overseeing care of those children, documents reveal.

“These staggering numbers reflect severe disarray in the basic oversight of children in state custody,” the children’s attorneys stated.

DHS spokesman George Johnson said Thursday he had not seen the court filings and could not comment.

The disclosures came in an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by attorneys associated with Children’s Rights, a New York-based child advocacy organization.

The attorneys currently represent nine children, but are seeking class action status to represent all children in DHS custody. The attorneys claim DHS has violated the children’s federal constitutional rights by failing to give them proper care and treatment and failing to provide them with safe and adequate living conditions. There are currently about 7,230 Oklahoma children in foster care.

The children’s attorneys have been battling DHS for e-mails by the current and past caseworkers and supervisors assigned to the nine children they represent.

Attorneys for the children claim DHS attorneys have been stonewalling them for months and now want them to pay costs of retrieving the e-mails. The children’s attorneys want DHS to pay.

DHS has provided them with access to some e-mails from their clients’ current caseworkers.

In one May 2007 e-mail, a caseworker said a child’s foster home placement was “doomed ... from the start because of all the family friction, problems, etc.”

In another e-mail, dated September 2007, a caseworker says a foster child was bounced around for weeks among three different shelters “because we have a shortage of foster home resources and had no opening to offer him.”

An adoption request was held up for six months because some paperwork was missing and the case was passed around while an employee was on extended leave, an April 2008 e-mail from a DHS supervisor revealed.

In other e-mails, workers complained about being “very understaffed” and “very overworked,” and having to visit 10 homes in a single day.

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Postby Marina » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:17 pm

http://newsok.com/group-cites-examples- ... le/3333492

Group cites examples in Oklahoma DHS suit
Attorneys seek class-action status

Published: December 28, 2008

DHS received serious complaints of abuse and neglect involving foster children in its care but failed to disclose the complaints to judges handling their child welfare cases, according to documents filed in an ongoing Tulsa federal lawsuit against the agency.

In one 2007 case, a boy told an Oklahoma Department of Human Services worker that his foster mother whipped him with a pink leather belt. The worker made a confirmed finding of abuse after observing a 6-inch circular bruise on the child’s right upper thigh, bruises and scratches on his right forearm and small bruises on his left thigh.

"Nevertheless, DHS made no mention of this abuse” in its next report to the judge assigned to the boy’s child welfare case, according to attorneys associated with Children’s Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group that is suing DHS over care it provides to foster children.

Medical care needed
In another 2007 case, a neglect complaint was filed with DHS against a Skiatook foster mother who failed to seek medical attention for a 9-month-old girl who had a double ear infection that was so bad, pus was coming out of her sinus cavities.
The baby also had "horrible eczema all over her body,” suffered from a respiratory syncytial virus infection and could not keep milk down because of severe congestion, the complaint states.

The complaint was called in by a woman providing respite foster care for the baby. Respite foster care is temporary care provided to give foster parents a break.

The caller said the foster mother had other DHS foster children in her home and she was concerned about the care they might be receiving.

DHS failed to tell a judge about the neglect complaint against the Skiatook foster mother during a review hearing concerning care for the 9-month-old girl held just five days after the complaint was received, attorneys said.

The baby’s primary caseworker stated in a sworn deposition that she was not notified of the complaint because the baby’s foster home was located outside the county where the caseworker was assigned and the child had already been moved.

The attorneys suing DHS cited the two cases as "graphic proof” that the safety and welfare of Oklahoma’s foster children are not being adequately protected by DHS and the state juvenile court system. They want a Tulsa federal judge to declare their case to be a class action so they can represent all children in DHS custody. There are about 7,230 Oklahoma children in foster care.

DHS attorneys want the judge to dismiss the case.

DHS spokesman George Johnson referred questions to attorney Don Bingham, who did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Bingham is a Tulsa private attorney who is helping defend DHS in the case.

The next hearing is scheduled Jan. 7 in Tulsa federal court.

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Postby Marina » Sat Feb 14, 2009 8:39 pm

http://www.myeyewitnessnews.com/news/lo ... spx?rss=59

Grandmother Given Temporary Custody of Child Despite Arkansas Foster Ban

Reported by: Associated Press
Email: [email protected]
Last Update: 1/14 12:42 pm

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- A woman who was named in a lawsuit challenging the new state law that bars adoption by unmarried couples has won temporary custody of her grandchild.

Sheila Cole of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said the decision by Benton County Circuit Judge Jay Finch represents the first hurdle toward adopting the child, who was in foster care in Bentonville.

The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit last month on behalf of Cole and others. The new law prohibits unmarried couples from serving as foster parents or adoptive parents.

The ACLU indicated after the hearing on Cole's custody petition that the group would not pursue a temporary restraining order it was seeking to stop the law from going into effect unless the group hears from the attorney general's office that the law will affect Cole's adoption petition.

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