DHS audit finds children are removed too often

from: kswo.com

February 25, 2009

Oklahoma City_Press Release_Oklahoma children are removed from their homes almost twice as much as the national average, putting a strain on both the state system and the children and families themselves, House leaders announced with the release of a sweeping audit of the Department of Human Services today.

The audit comes after five months of extensive study by the independent auditing firm Hornby Zeller Associates, which has helped lead changes in states like Arkansas and Georgia following similar audits. The audit focused on the children and families services division, field operations division and family support services division of the agency.

If the recommendations are implemented they could protect more Oklahoma children from harm.

"We have to work to find the right balance between keeping children in their homes when at all possible and knowing when a child needs to be taken out of a dangerous situation," said Rep. Ron Peters, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services. "We will be working to intensify our safety and risk assessment training of DHS workers so they can know the difference between a family who could use improved parenting skills versus one knowingly harming their child."

House Speaker Chris Benge requested the audit last legislative session and formed a bipartisan working group made up of Republican Reps. Ron Peters, Kris Steele and Pam Peterson and Democratic Reps. Jeannie McDaniel, Wade Rousselot and Richard Morrissette to study the issue.

"It is my hope that everyone involved in this process will put the well-being of Oklahoma children first. I would like to thank department officials, especially agency director Howard Hendrick, for their willingness to work with the Legislature," said Benge, R-Tulsa. "There will always be a certain level of tragedy when dealing with neglected and abused children, but we must do all we can as a state to minimize those risks."

The audit recommends streamlining several functions of the agency to eliminate duplication and help families know where they need to go for services.

A centralized hotline needs to be established for all reports of abuse and neglect of children. The department's licensing processes also need to be more efficient. A single process needs to be developed for all in-home services, whether that is day care, foster care or adoptive screenings.

DHS should also develop a Passport Program similar to that in Texas, which allows information about a child's physical and behavioral health and educational needs to be available electronically.

The need for additional training for DHS workers was also cited several times in the audit, and DHS Director Hendrick has said the department is already in the process of implementing more stringent and thorough instruction for both new and current employees.

"Having the proper training in place for our child welfare workers has to be a priority, and we must constantly work to make sure DHS employees have the most up-to-date training and skills when it comes to dealing with vulnerable children," said Rep. Peters, R-Tulsa. "We must do anything we can to ensure our workers are using the industry best practices when it comes to standard of care for children."

Another audit recommendation would aim to reduce the number of children in the state system by increasing the number of in-home services available to families.

"The majority of children are removed from their home because of neglect, not willful abuse," said Peters. "This change would help teach parents how to properly care for their children while keeping them at home and safe under the more stringent court supervision of in-home services."

Though additional in-home services may come with a price-tag, Peters said the state would save money in the long-run with an increased focus on in-home services that would help keep children out of costly state care.

"Many parents in Oklahoma want to be able to take care of their children, but aren't adequately equipped to do so," he said.

One of the critical recommendations, if enacted, will ensure that a DHS caseworker is directly involved in the removal of a child from their home. Currently, law enforcement can remove a child from the home and place the child in DHS custody without the involvement of a child welfare worker.

The change would help to prevent children from being removed from the home needlessly, which puts undue burdens on the child and the system itself.

In Oklahoma, the audit shows that 20 percent of children removed from their home are returned within one week of removal. In the Tulsa area, 40 percent of children removed are returned home in that same timeframe.

The audit proposes some structural reorganization of the Oklahoma and Tulsa county offices. Additionally, the audit says the department's SWIFT adoption workers need to be integrated into the agency's local offices.

Benge said that an oversight component, to ensure the changes made are effective, will be included in the reform legislation.

"All of these recommendations will not be able to be implemented overnight, but we will be aggressive in pursuing as many reforms as possible," said Benge. "Protecting Oklahoma's children is one of the utmost responsibilities of government and we will work this year and in subsequent years to make sure the states child welfare system is the best it can be"

Since 1988, Hornby Zeller Associates, Inc. has provided evaluation and consulting services to public and private organizations in over 30 states and the District of Columbia. HZA has worked in numerous states conducting research, evaluation, workload, rate-setting and technical assistance projects, which when combined, involves every aspect of child welfare beginning with a child's entry into the child welfare system, to the investigation of a report, to receipt of services including in-home and foster care, and the achievement of permanency through adoption.

One of the firm's founders, Dr. Dennis Zeller, grew up in Oklahoma and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.

Legislation seeking to implement many of the audit recommendations will be heard in the House Human Services Committee Monday, March 2.

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Oh Oklahoma....!

I was just reading an older article (from April 2008) about Oklahoma's foster care system, and how the Children's Rights Advocacy group filed a law-suit against the state.  [The same group mentioned in the case against Michigan and featured in the video, Children's Rights:  Silent Voices 

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.   [From:  "Bleak Stories Follow a Lawsuit on Oklahoma Foster Care", Erik Eckholm, April 16, 2008]

The article continues with this little piece of child placement information: 

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.

I'm wondering if the class-action lawsuit has anything to do with the 2009 DHS audit and it's reported findings, because according to another article, Lawsuit over foster care liable to be long, costly, a federal judge set a March deadline for the group to present proposed fixes.

In any case, after reading all three articles, I found myself asking a very simple question over and over again:  if abuse and neglect is such a terrible problem in first AND foster homes, how is the high adoption rate making state-care better for the children put in the poorly-run system in the first place? 

incompetence

In any case, after reading all three articles, I found myself asking a very simple question over and over again:  if abuse and neglect is such a terrible problem in first AND foster homes, how is the high adoption rate making state-care better for the children put in the poorly-run system in the first place?

That's a good question. A system that is not capable of monitoring its foster care system cannot provide proper screening and preparation of prospective adoptive parents either. So moving children out of the system is a gravely dangerous undertaking. In our archive of abuse case, we find so many instances of serious abuse of people who adopted from foster care that it's highly questionable if children are safer in adoptive families than in foster families. The only ones benefiting from adoption are in fact the authorities responsible for foster care. Every child adopted is out of the system and no longer their responsibility, while on top of it a bonus is earned with every adoptive placement. The case of Jasmine and Minette Bowman shows how dramatic rushed and improperly monitored adoption from foster care can end.

The only ones benefiting

The only ones benefiting from adoption are in fact the authorities responsible for foster care.

I disagree.  I'd like to think my kids benefitted to some degree by their adoption, rather than spending their childhood in foster care.  But that's just me.

I personally have benefited in that I got the chance to be a father.

Dad

 

 

Excuse me?

If I read correctly, the statement, "The only ones benefiting from adoption are in fact the authorities responsible for foster care."  was preceded by, "In our archive of abuse case, we find so many instances of serious abuse of people who adopted from foster care that it's highly questionable if children are safer in adoptive families than in foster families."

Based on my own personal understanding of the types of abuse adoptees have had and continue to endure, (whether formally reported, or not), I can't, for the life of me, see how anyone can possibly believe children like the Bowman girls, (who were chopped in pieces and stuffed in a freezer by their foster/adoptive mother), benefited from their adoption!

Would many say the fostered/adopted children who get sexually used and abused by adoptive family members benefit from adoption?  Do many think the fostered/adoptees who get tortured, (or killed), thanks to aggressive Attachment Therapies, benefit from their adoption experience?   I'd like to think the majority of people would say an emphatic "NO!"  [But that's just me]

When I read cases like Elizabeth Steinberg, Judith Leekin, Masha Allen, the Gravelles, Samantha and Saraphina, (just to name a few), I can't help but think it's a grave mistake to assume adoption is the single-best solution to a grossly flawed and failing foster care/child placement system.

You're Excused

If I read correctly, the statement, "The only ones benefiting from adoption are in fact the authorities responsible for foster care."  was preceded by, "In our archive of abuse case, we find so many instances of serious abuse of people who adopted from foster care that it's highly questionable if children are safer in adoptive families than in foster families."

Thanks Kerry.  I am able to read.

Based on my own personal understanding of the types of abuse adoptees have had and continue to endure, (whether formally reported, or not), I can't, for the life of me, see how anyone can possibly believe children like the Bowman girls, (who were chopped in pieces and stuffed in a freezer by their foster/adoptive mother), benefited from their adoption!

Pardon me, but did I cite the Bowman girls as an example of benefitting from their adoption?  I don't think I did. 
But I certainly understand your confusion since abused adoptees are your single focus and obsession to the exclusion of all else.

It seems nothing remotely positive about adoption (anecdotal or otherwise) goes unchallenged on this forum.  Just as those pro-adoption websites promote nothing but the positives, this place promotes nothing but abuse cases.  What makes your world view of adoption any more reliable than those pro-adoption views on the other extreme?  Here's a hint  -  it's not.

I believe my children benefitted from their adoption from foster care.  And yes, I believe that for many foster children who cannot return home, adoption can mean an end to abuse - not the beginning of it.  If that statement upsets you so much that you need to rush in and remind me of the Bowman Girls, have at me.

I am done with this place.  It is not what I thought it was.  No one likes child abuse - no one.  But had I known that my donation to the cause of archiving child abuse cases would be used primarily to promote an anti-adoption position, then it was a waste of my time and support.  The Bowman Girls notwithstanding.

Dad

Firm Positions

As long as abuse and corruption exists within the child placement system, how can I possibly promote adoption and encourage "more of the same"? 

While I am fully aware there are many who feel adoption is the best thing that happened to them and their family, there are so many who do not believe that's so -- and those voices need to be heard as much as possible so positive change can become a reality for ALL touched by CPS.

The truth is, it worries me when AP's want to promote their positive adoption experiences -- WHY?  There are far too many so-called "good people" doing some really awful things all in the name of "charity" and adoption.  History has proven time and time again desperate, eager people have been fooled, they been hurt and they have been blind to things that could have and should have been stopped a long time ago. It's too easy for single-minded people to see, and focus on only one side of a story, without looking at the whole picture.   [This is the very thing you don't like me doing!]  In my case, I like to remind readers a very simple reality: when it comes to child placement and adoption, not all that glitters is gold, and I back it up with stories that SHOULD make people annoyed, disgusted and mad as hell. 

On a more personal note, if you honestly think PPL's archives are a waste of time and money, I'm glad we have the support of many others who think differently.  After all, if PPL is going to promote child safety and good moral ethics within the child placement system, we need to show readers who should not be trusted, where PAP's should NOT go, and how children should NOT be treated post placement.

Abuse and corruption exists...

As long as abuse and corruption exists within the child placement system, how can I possibly promote adoption and encourage "more of the same"?

The fact that there is abuse and corruption within the health care system should not preclude people from seeking health care.  The fact that there is abuse and corruption within the law enforcement and judicial system does not mean I am promoting these abuses by calling the cops.  After all, don't the police, judges, lawyers and medical professionals benefit from the suffering of those they serve.  Last time I checked, nurses were paid for their professional services, even when the patient dies.

If you're going to insist that adoption be completely void of abuse and corruption before you even consider the upsides, then we have no basis for meaningful dialogue.  It will never happen, as abuse and corruption to some degree is inherent in all human endeavors, including (gasp) natural intact families.  As long as abuse and corruption exists within natural families, how can I possibly promote family preservation and encourage "more of the same"?  It's the flip side of your opening statement.  Care to address it directly?  I didn't think so.

Far be it for me to ask you to "promote" adoption.  If that's what you think I'm asking of you, we have a serious communication disconnect.

No, it's not about convincing people that all that glitters is not gold.  Most reasoning people already understand that, so give me a bit more credit.  I'm painfully aware of the abuses within the child placement system.  Endorsing ethical and moral practices in adoption does not equate to promoting child abuse.

Perhaps I should create an archive of children who were abused exclusively by their natural parents.  I would be careful to exclude abuse cases in child-placement in hopes of advancing a pro-adoption agenda.  I would make statements like "how many biological kids have to suffer before the state intervenes on their behalf?"

What if I turned the tables and asked of you what level of abuse and corruption in natural families is acceptable to you?  How many children have to suffer abuse and death at the hands of their natural parents before it concerns you?  After all, all that glitters is not gold.  This is what I mean by empty rhetoric. 

I would think it would (quite justifiably) piss you off that a pro-adoption agenda is being promoted while turning a completely blind eye to the abuses and corruption in child-placement.

I guess it's different when you do it.

Dad

let me respond

I was the one who made the hyperbolic statement "The only ones benefiting from adoption are in fact the authorities responsible for foster care." that started this whole back and forth, so let me respond.

The statement I made was put in the context of State authorities using adoption as a means to rid themselves of children in their care, as exemplified in the Oklahoma situation, which is claimed to be one of the worst systems in the US, while maintaining one of the highest levels of adoption from foster care. 

In my response I highlighted the Bowman case, because it exemplifies how dangerous it is when authorities recklessly seek adoption as a means to improve their system. The foster care system cannot be improved by adopting out more children, in fact adoption can only be an option when a state has a properly functioning foster care sytem.

It is certainly true our website highlights the corruption, the malpractices, in short the dark side of child placement. It's a dirty job and I believe someone has to do it. There are plenty of website around that glorify adoption, that colour rainbows, butterflies and seek all sorts of other feel good symbols to make the general public believe as if everything is peachy in adoption land. The agenda I see promoted is foster care = bad, adoption = good.

What we do is create a much needed counter balance against all this glorification and because of that we focus on all that goes wrong in child placement, which is astonishingly much.

In time, when our message about all that goes wrong has spread enough so there is a real balance between positive and negative publicity about  child placement, there may be others that will show both side of the coin. For now we hardly even have the time to catch up with all cases of corruption, malpractice etc. We have a backlog of some 300 murder cases in foster care, we have yet to uncover numerous cases of child trafficking, our coerced adoption section is still in its infancy and so is our father's rights violations section.

It's within the context of all that we uncover statements are being made. I am aware there are good foster parents and good adoptive parents that really take the interest of the children in their care seriously and do what they can to make their lives better. That also gives me hope things can be improved, but given the sheer number of cases where things go catastrophically wrong, the reports that show systemic problems in child placement, we still have a long way to go.

My added two-cents

I'd just like to add one more thing to the following:

It's within the context of all that we uncover statements are being made. I am aware there are good foster parents and good adoptive parents that really take the interest of the children in their care seriously and do what they can to make their lives better.

A tremendous amount of information featured on our pages comes from AP's who want to stay anonymous.  These are AP's who have become very disgusted with what they have seen and experienced within the adoption industry; they write to us because they are frustrated and want to share all sorts of information because they believe these are things people need to know. 

Many letters and messages have come from adult adoptees thanking us, privately, because we are breaking the silence, and making it easier for others (in smaller support groups) to come forward so they too can share their adoptive family secrets.  As hard as it is to believe, abuse in the adoptive home does exist, and I so very strongly believe those victims "saved by adoption" NEED TO BE SEEN AND RECOGNIZED so they too can be given the chance to finally heal and mend.

PPL is only two years old.  I'm told I should feel proud because the work we do does have value and the information we share is very helpful and important to many.   Is a website going to change the world?  No.  But people who are well-informed can do many great things, if they want to.

I believe frustration and disgust can be good things; both feelings can help motivate and inspire change.  With that, if long-term child safety is going to a personal priority, all sides of the child-placement story need to be told so others can help create a greater good.

PPL is only two years old. 

PPL is only two years old.  I'm told I should feel proud because the work we do does have value and the information we share is very helpful and important to many.   Is a website going to change the world?  No.  But people who are well-informed can do many great things, if they want to.

You really should be proud - no sarcasm intended.

Dad

A Much Needed Counter Balance

What we do is create a much needed counter balance against all this glorification and because of that we focus on all that goes wrong in child placement, which is astonishingly much.

And what I do is create a much needed counter balance against the overwhelming demonization of adoption within this forum.  Call it a reverse microcosm of the bigger picture you have described above.  Call it a savior complex, whatever, but if you really think about it, that particular shoe fits both ways.

If you validate your objectives based in part upon your minority position, on that premise alone my comments should be met with some consideration.  I'm not exactly the most popular person here.  We have much more in common than you think.

Dad

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