Lawsuits like This Need to Be Front Page News When Does the Abuse Stop

Report decries Oklahoma DHS caseloads
Document in class-action looks at 7 cases in which kids in state care were not protected
BY RANDY ELLIS 54 Comments Published: March 25, 2010

TULSA — It took the Oklahoma Department of Human Services two years to refer one foster child for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation even though the girl had a history of sexual abuse and had been cutting herself to “release the pain.”

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Another foster child was subjected to at least 81 placement changes and had 97 caseworkers and 88 supervisors during 10 years and 9 months of her time in DHS custody.

These are just two of many findings contained in a supplemental report filed Wednesday in a 2008 Tulsa federal class-action lawsuit that is seeking to reform Oklahoma’s child welfare system.

The report was prepared by Peg McCartt Hess, an independent child welfare consultant who was retained by a New York child advocacy organization called Children’s Rights to review the files of seven Oklahoma foster children.

She identified eight areas where there appear to be systemic failures in Oklahoma’s caring for children who are the victims of abuse or neglect.

Hess said the primary goal of DHS placements is supposed to keep children safe, but DHS failed to accomplish that in each of the seven cases she reviewed.

“When attempting to describe the children’s harm and suffering, the words that come to mind are incomprehensible, unimaginable, outrageous and immoral,” Hess wrote. “These tragic stories were wholly preventable.”

Children’s Rights attorneys have blamed excessive caseloads for many of Oklahoma’s child welfare failures.

They asked a judge Wednesday to force DHS attorneys to turn over documents that would reveal the full caseloads of Oklahoma child welfare workers.

So far, DHS officials have only turned over primary caseload numbers and claim they don’t systematically track secondary caseload numbers, Children’s Rights attorneys said.

Primary caseloads are children assigned to workers in the counties where they are taken into custody. When a child is placed in a foster home in another county, which often occurs, a secondary caseworker is assigned to visit the child in the home.

Counting just primary caseloads greatly undercounts an employee’s workload, Children’s Rights attorneys said. They cited documentation they had obtained for two Oklahoma workers that showed one had a primary caseload of 27 children but was actually overseeing 43, and the other had a primary caseload of 31 children but was actually responsible for 60.

Donald Bingham,a Tulsa attorney representing DHS, responded by saying DHS already has provided opposing attorneys with more than 600,000 pages of documents.

“We have complied with every valid request for additional documents,” Bingham said. “The attorneys for Children’s Rights frequently have not been specific in describing the documents they seek.”

DHS is willing to turn over thousands of more documents if they are “reasonably described and are relevant and if the expense of producing them is not too great a burden on Oklahoma taxpayers,” Bingham said.

While attorneys fight over documents, Hess claims children have been suffering.

Concerning the girl who belatedly received psychological care despite a history of sexual abuse and self-harm, Hess said a review of her file revealed DHS placed her in settings where she was maltreated for three-fourths of the four years and three months that were reviewed.

At least 16 child abuse or neglect allegations were received regarding the girl while she was in DHS custody. Only seven were classified as referrals, and three of those seven were “screened out,” Hess said.

Nine other complaints weren’t even given referrals. Hess called that a “potentially life-threatening and irresponsible ongoing agency practice which precluded investigation of any of these allegations.”

Although a shelter social worker recommended the girl be placed in therapeutic foster care when she was first taken into custody, she was instead placed in “unqualified and/or unprepared placements in which she was repeatedly beaten, exposed to domestic violence, neglected and abandoned by her caregivers,” Hess wrote.

Elaborating on the girl who was subjected to at least 81 placement changes, Hess wrote that she was placed twice with a relative whose home had not been approved by DHS and where her abusive father continued to live.

Six other times the girl was placed in a single therapeutic foster care home, even though those foster parents continually failed to protect her from injuring herself and DHS workers repeatedly documented her suicidal and homicidal threats, self-abuse, physical assault on her foster care parents and serious damage to property.

Bingham said he had not yet had the chance to review the report, but he said the first child was placed in the permanent guardianship of an aunt several months ago and the second girl has reached the age of 18.

Both girls are now out of state custody, he said.

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About yvonnemason

Background:  The eldest of five children, Yvonne was born May 17, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in East Point, Georgia, she moved to Jackson County, Ga. until 2006 then moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida where she currently makes her home.  Licensed bounty hunter for the state of Georgia. Education:  After a 34 year absence, returned to college in 2004. Graduated with honors in Criminal Justice with an Associate’s degree from Lanier Technical College in 2006. Awards:  Nominated for the prestigious GOAL award in 2005 which encompasses all of the technical colleges. This award is based not only on excellence in academics but also leadership, positive attitude and the willingness to excel in one’s major. Affiliations:  Beta Sigma Phi Sorority  Member of The Florida Writer’s Association – Group Leader for St Lucie County The Dream:  Since learning to write at the age of five, Yvonne has wanted to be an author. She wrote her first novel Stan’s Story beginning in 1974 and completed it in 2006. Publication seemed impossible as rejections grew to 10 years. Determined, she continued adding to the story until her dream came true in 2006. The Inspiration:  Yvonne’s brother Stan has been her inspiration and hero in every facet of her life. He was stricken with Encephalitis at the tender age of nine months. He has defied every roadblock placed in his way and has been the driving force in every one of her accomplishments. He is the one who taught her never to give up The Author: Yvonne is currently the author of several novels, including:  Stan’s Story- the true story of her brother’s accomplishments, it has been compared to the style of Capote, and is currently being rewritten with new information for re-release.  Tangled Minds - a riveting story about a young girl’s bad decision and how it taints everyone’s life around her yet still manages to show that hope is always possible. This novel has been compared to the writing of Steinbeck and is currently being written as a screenplay. This novel will be re-released by Kerlak Publishing in 2009  Brilliant Insanity – released by Kerlak Publishing October 2008  Silent Scream – Released by October 2008- Slated to be made into a movie Yvonne’s Philosophy in Life - “Pay it Forward”: “In this life we all have been helped by others to attain our dreams and goals. We cannot pay it back but what we can do is ‘pay it forward’. It is a simple
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2 Responses to Lawsuits like This Need to Be Front Page News When Does the Abuse Stop

  1. jasonreglin says:

    it was ok head of cps who said” children will die in the hands of cps” find it on youtube. which leads me to believe ok is one of the worst states when it comes to protecting our children


  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Lawsuits like This Need to Be Front Page News When Does the Abuse Stop « How Child Protection Services Buys and Sells Our Children --

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