The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

State News

February 13, 2008

Oklahoma: Lawsuit against DHS seeks changes in state child welfare system

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.

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