OKLAHOMA CITY — A court-appointed panel of child welfare experts on Wednesday approved the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ plan to overhaul the state’s child welfare settlement.
The plan includes placing all children younger than 2 in a family-like setting rather than a group shelter by Dec. 31, developing a training program for DHS supervisors and increasing the number of foster parents. It also includes increasing reimbursement payments to foster parents and the salaries of child welfare specialists, which DHS has already approved.
The so-called Pinnacle Plan is the result of the January settlement of a lawsuit by the New York-based child advocacy group Children’s Rights over the treatment of children in state custody. The plan, to be implemented during the next five years, is expected to cost $153 million.
“The Pinnacle Plan articulates a bold new vision for the improvement of the Oklahoma child welfare system,” the three-member panel said in a statement.
“This is a thoughtful and ambitious plan,” the statement said. “Success will require the continued leadership and support of all three branches of government in the best interests of Oklahoma’s children.”
Oklahoma DHS interim director Preston Doerflinger issued a statement saying the agency is working with the panelists on ways to measure the success of the program.
“OKDHS is committed to the vulnerable children of this state and to the successful implementation of this plan,” Doerflinger said.
DHS Child Welfare Services Director Deborah Smith said she and others involved in child welfare are excited about the approval of the program and are ready to implement it.
“This plan is the result of a lot of hard work and collaboration by people who are very committed to improving our system that protects abused and neglected children.”
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement in calling the approval of the plan “a big step forward” for the state.
“DHS will continue to have my support and assistance as it works to implement the Pinnacle Plan. The success of these reforms is critical to ensuring the state can provide adequate protection and care to vulnerable Oklahoma children,” Fallin said.
Children’s Rights executive director Marcia Robinson Lowry also expressed pleasure with the plan.
“The settlement has produced a wide-ranging, comprehensive plan that commits DHS both to necessary reforms in the state’s foster care system and to the best ways of implementing those reforms,” Lowry said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in 2008, alleged that Oklahoma victimized foster children by not finding “safe and adequate” homes for them and not adequately monitoring their safety “due to an overburdened and mismanaged workforce.”
It also alleged that the state agency failed to provide for the basic safety of foster children in ways that “threaten their ability to live normal childhoods, to grow and develop and, in many instances, to even survive.”