Suit against DHS says kids are shuffled around

TULSA — Federal data shows that more than a third of children in Oklahoma foster care are shuffled to different placements three or more times in less than a year, the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit that seeks reform in Oklahoma’s foster care system claim in a court filing.

But the plaintiffs allege that Oklahoma’s numbers are likely even worse because the state doesn’t track moves among different homes managed by the same private agency.

The filing was made Friday, the deadline U.S. Magistrate Frank McCarthy had set last month for updates on discovery issues in the case.

In August, McCarthy also commended DHS for its improved pace in providing case-file information to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs reported Friday that DHS has now produced the case files for 375 children selected by an expert witness for review.

However, the plaintiffs asked the court to have the agency produce other documents, as well as e-mails and raw data downloaded from DHS’ computer system.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2008 by the New York-based national child advocacy group Children’s Rights, four Oklahoma law firms and the international firm Kaye Scholer.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell has set an October 2011 trial date, and the parties are now engaged in the pretrial “discovery” process in the lawsuit, which names various Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials as defendants.

In Friday’s filing, the plaintiffs drew on the data it has received from DHS to amplify and update claims they made in their original complaint.

Among the claims the plaintiffs made Friday is that Oklahoma has a critical shortage of foster homes, with only half as many available as there are children in foster care.

In addition, Oklahoma’s child welfare work force has an “astronomically high” turnover rate — as high as 33 percent in 2008, the plaintiffs claim in the filing.

The plaintiffs attribute this turnover rate to high caseloads and inadequate support from DHS, and they state that nearly half of the state agency’s caseworkers have less than two years’ experience.

The filing states that DHS has posted one of the worst rates in the nation of confirmed abuse and neglect of children in foster care for the last seven years. It claims that DHS staff have acknowledged that the numbers they are reporting don’t include abuse and neglect that take place in its shelters and institutions.

Donald Bingham, a Tulsa attorney representing DHS, countered the plaintiffs’ filing Friday night with one of his own, which concludes that “parts of plaintiffs”status report’ may make good fodder for a news story, even though those parts are false or misleading and so the strategy of plaintiffs’ counsel may enjoy a measure of success.”

Bingham wrote, “The fact remains that plaintiffs’ ‘status report’ is little more than a news release.”

Read more: http://newsok.com/suit-against-dhs-says-kids-are-shuffled-around/article/3493934#ixzz0zEwxADdh

September 11th, 2010
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