Monitors report the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is slipping when it comes to foster care system improvements.
After noting "discernible progress" in January toward improvements laid out in the Pinnacle Plan, the monitors, known as co-neutrals, noted nine areas where DHS is not making good faith efforts, up from three in their last semi-annual review.
"I think the people who, obviously, pay taxes ought to be very concerned what their tax money is going for, but it is not going to protect children who are the most vulnerable — those children in foster care," said A Better Childhood Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry, who was co-lead counsel in the lawsuit that led to the Pinnacle Plan.
Maltreatment in care is one of the areas the co-neutrals said progress is not being made.
"Oklahoma is one of the worst states in the country on maltreatment of children in care. That number is going up. And so, just the basic issue of ‘Are children safe in foster care?’ the issue is declining," Lowry said.
The other areas with an "absence of good faith efforts" include developing foster homes for kids with special needs, reducing the number of older children in shelters and making child welfare workers’ caseloads more manageable.
The co-neutrals can seek federal court orders for any area they don’t find good faith efforts being made.
"The state has just got to act one way or another, either voluntarily as they promised they would or as a result of court orders," Lowry said.
DHS is disputing the latest review.
"We are strongly objecting to a dismaying number of aspects of this report," DHS Director Ed Lake said in a statement. "We believe this report contains a number of misleading comments, isolated facts stated without important context, hindsight bias, and inconsistencies with prior reports, all seemingly intended to portray the agency's actions or alleged inaction in as unfavorable a light as possible. Even more troubling and of greater importance is the omission of significant, intensive good faith efforts the Department has made and continues to make in all areas."
DHS reported it has spent around $290 million on Pinnacle Plan improvements.