OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Human Services on Thursday released its revisions to a plan to improve child welfare services that is part of the settlement of a lawsuit that alleged mistreatment of children in state custody.
The revisions to the so-called Pinnacle Plan include placing all children younger than 2 in a family-like setting rather than a group shelter by Dec. 31 and establishing a training program for DHS staff by July 1, 2013, rather than Sept. 1.
The plan is part of a January settlement agreement with the New York-based children’s advocacy group Children’s Rights, which sued over DHS’ treatment of foster children.
A Children’s Rights official was not available for comment Thursday, the organization said.
Deborah Smith, director of the Children and Family Services Division, said the initial plan submitted in March called for the changes to be implemented over a five year period, while the revisions call for the changes to be in place within three years.
“The new version really focuses more on supporting families throughout the process to become better foster families or adoptive families,” Smith said.
“The other focus is on children and shelters. The updated version focuses on children under 2, sot that children under 2 will be out of shelters by this year,” and placed in family-like homes by Dec. 31.
The previous proposal called for children younger than 6 to be out of shelters by July 1, 2013, and children younger than 13 out of shelters by July 1, 2014.
The proposal now goes to a three-person committee of “co-neutrals,” who are out-of-state child welfare specialists who will have 45 days to approve or reject the revisions.
“We hope this becomes the final version. We have made some minor adjustments, and believe this plan will provide a valuable outline with which we can operate in the years to come,” Smith said.
The plan also calls for increased reimbursement rates to foster families, increasing the number of foster families in the state, hiring more child welfare specialists, lower case loads for the specialists and more frequent communication with foster families.
Smith said the revisions were developed with input from state officials, including the governor’s office.
“The Pinnacle Plan is a roadmap forward that will better protect and serve our children,” Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said in a statement. “The governor is hopeful the latest changes to the Pinnacle Plan will be accepted in order to provide a finalized version that DHS can begin to implement.”
The plan’s cost has been estimated at $153 million over the next five years.