TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Documents filed in a federal lawsuit brought against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services cite “severe disarray” within the state’s foster care system.
Attorneys for Children’s Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group, made the claim in documents filed Thursday in federal court in Tulsa.
The attorneys claim the lack of organization within DHS led to nine foster children having contact with 176 primary caseworkers, 125 secondary workers and 190 supervisors who oversaw the care of the children.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marcia Lowry, the executive director of Children's Rights. “The number is particularly significant when you realize that six of these children have been in state custody for less than three years, and three of them are less than 2 years old.
“When you have this many workers and supervisors managing children’s cases, in essence, you have no one managing them at all.”
Don Bingham, an attorney who is representing DHS, said the reason why the children had so many changes in primary caseworkers is being looked into. He said the number of secondary workers wasn’t a primary concern, because such workers might have just performed a clerical task.
Children’s Rights sued DHS in February, seeking an overhaul of the state’s child welfare system. The lawsuit alleges DHS 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.”
The advocacy group also is seeking designation of the lawsuit as a civil rights class action on behalf of foster children in DHS custody because of reports that they have been abused or neglected.
About 7,230 children in Oklahoma are in foster care.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the group’s attorneys have sought to obtain from DHS copies of the e-mails connected with current and past caseworkers and supervisors for the nine children represented.
The group has received some of the e-mails, in which workers complained about being “very understaffed” and “very overworked.”