The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — A lawsuit filed on behalf of nine foster children Wednesday accuses the state of victimizing its foster children by not finding “safe and adequate” homes for them and inadequately monitoring their safety “due to an overburdened and mismanaged work force.”
The lawsuit seeks a complete overhaul of the state’s child welfare system and alleges the Department of Human Services has 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.”
“Children who require placement in foster care are the most vulnerable members of Oklahoma society,” the 87-page lawsuit states. “Oklahoma owes no higher duty than to stop victimizing her foster children.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, seeks designation as a civil rights class action on behalf of 10,000 foster children who are in DHS custody because of reports or suspicions that they have been abused or neglected.
It names Gov. Brad Henry, the nine members of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services and DHS Director Howard Hendrick as defendants. It asks that the state stop violating the constitutional rights of its foster children and meet its legal obligations to them.
“Oklahoma has long maintained one of the most dangerous and badly mismanaged child welfare systems in the nation, and thousands of children have suffered under nightmarish conditions for years as a result,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, a New York-based national child advocacy group that spearheaded the lawsuit.
The group said that for the past five years, Oklahoma’s rate of maltreatment of children in foster care has been among the three worst in the nation. In two of those years it was the worst, it said.
Children in DHS custody are subjected to violence, sexual abuse and neglect at rates more than four times the national norm and at times exceeded rates of abuse and neglect in the general population of Oklahoma.
“It is disgraceful that we have to seek a federal court order to force the state to begin fixing problems that it should have addressed many years ago,” Lowry said. “But it is clear that this is the only way to protect Oklahoma’s abused and neglected children — and that is what this lawsuit is about.”
In a statement released by DHS, the agency said it looks forward to demonstrating the strengths of Oklahoma’s child welfare system and improving where it can.
“Foster care is an emotional experience for children and their parents,” the statement says. But every case involving a child in DHS custody is supervised by a state judge, making federal court intervention unnecessary, it says.
“All systems can be improved,” it says. “The number of children in out-of-home care in Oklahoma is high. However, they are moving through Oklahoma’s child welfare system at faster rates than most of the contiguous states and faster than the national average.”
The nine foster children named in the lawsuit are identified only by their initials and range in age from four months to 16 years. The lawsuit says they share a history of suffering in DHS placements.
One child, an 11-month-old girl, has been in foster care since shortly after birth and has been placed in 17 different homes and shelters, according to the lawsuit.
“While in foster care, she has suffered a fractured skull as a result of physical abuse in an unsafe foster home; she has suffered severe dehydration and seizures as a result of neglect in an unsafe group facility; and she has suffered a severe illness as a result of neglect in another unsafe foster home, the lawsuit alleges.
Another child, a 5-year-old boy who has been in DHS custody for 12 months, has been placed in foster facilities nine times including four emergency shelters in four different counties, it says.
And a 13-year-old girl who entered foster care after she was sexually abused suffered further sexual assaults in a DHS facility and has been denied treatment for the psychological trauma she experiences, it alleges.
The lawsuit says DHS’s inability to protect children from abuse while in state custody is due to management problems including excessive caseloads and turnover among DHS workers, dangerous monitoring and oversight practices and insufficient efforts to develop and maintain an adequate pool of foster care placements.
“DHS has subjected all too many foster children to appalling treatment, even though advocates throughout the state have been calling for reform for years,” said attorney Tom Seymour of Tulsa, one of several attorneys involved in the case.
“With this lawsuit, we are asking the federal courts to correct the constitutional injustices meted out to our most sacred assets, which are this state’s children,” Seymour said.
The Associated Press
- State News
Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri
Gov. Jay Nixon today declared a state of emergency in Missouri in response to severe winter weather that began early this morning, bringing hazardous travel and the possibility of power outages.
Party on? No local love in Princeton Review rankings
There's no love for Missouri Southern State University, Pittsburg State University or Crowder College in the new rankings issued by the Princeton Review. Which, given many of the survey categories, isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Publicist: Andy Williams dies
According to a publicist, Emmy-winning TV host and 'Moon River' crooner Andy Williams has died.
Lions climb into share of MIAA men's basketball lead
Without taking the floor, Missouri Southern has climbed into a first-place tie in the MIAA men’s basketball race.
2.6 magnitude earthquake recorded in Oklahoma
The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded a 2.6 magnitude earthquake near Wellston in central Oklahoma.
No injuries or damage is reported.
Audit: $108,000 taken from Missouri Veterans Commission
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A former employee of the state auditor’s office embezzled nearly $108,000 while working as an accountant for the Missouri Veterans Commission, the state auditor alleged Monday.
Stacy Griffin-Lowery was fired by the Veterans Commission in March 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to a misdemeanor theft charge. She repaid the state $17,665, the auditor’s office said.
But Missouri Auditor Susan Montee on Monday accused Griffin-Lowery of swiping an additional $90,192 by getting reimbursed for cash advances and purchases made on her personal credit card.
Race in Kansas’ 2nd District could heat up for GOP incumbent
TOPEKA, Kan. — A conservative Kansas legislator said Monday he will announce in a few weeks whether he will challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the Republican primary.
State Sen. Dennis Pyle’s actions in recent months suggest the Hiawatha farmer, who’s served in the Legislature since 2001, is running against Jenkins in the Aug. 2 primary. He set up a campaign organization in November and has a Web site featuring a brief video of him on his farm, asking viewers for support.
Oklahoma tea party leaders, lawmakers envision militia
OKLAHOMA CITY — Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
Tea party movement leaders say they’ve discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force
- Missouri: Senate panel cuts $500 million from proposed budget JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Senate committee declared Thursday that it has sliced more than $500 million from Missouri’s proposed budget for next year — meeting a target set by Gov. Jay Nixon to bring it in balance.
- Kansas: Wichita-area casino in doubt after governor’s decision TOPEKA, Kan. — A proposed casino south of Wichita was in doubt Thursday after Gov. Mark Parkinson refused to grant its developers a regulatory reprieve. Partners in the $225 million Chisholm Creek project wanted to delay a state board’s decision on their plans.
- More State News Headlines
- Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri