By Randy Ellis
Oklahoma's Department of Human Services has made significant progress in reducing incidents of abuse of children in state care, according to a new report released Friday by out-of-state monitors.
DHS reported a "sharp decline in the incidence of abuse and neglect in institutional settings," the overseers reported, adding that the agency also was highly successful in protecting the safety of children being cared for by parents in trial reunifications.
The overseers have issued 12 progress reports since January 2012 when DHS entered into an agreement to settle a class action lawsuit over the maltreatment of children in state care.
This report was by far the most positive.
The overseers found that DHS has made good-faith efforts to make substantial and sustained progress in 29 of 31 target areas, which include categories like increasing the number of available foster homes, reducing the number of times children are moved around to different foster homes, reducing the placement of children in institutional shelters and reducing caseloads of child welfare workers.
The two areas where DHS came up short related to the recruitment and retention of therapeutic foster homes, which are homes headed by individuals trained to care for children in need of behavioral health treatment.
"Since the outset of this reform, DHS has seen a 77 percent decline in specialized foster homes for children in DHS' custody who need therapeutic care, and without urgent, aggressive action, the situation will worsen," the report warned.
Recruitment of therapeutic foster homes continues to pose problems for DHS, the agency said in a news release.
"Supports are limited in Oklahoma for children with autism, complex medical needs and co-occurring mental health disorders and intellectual disabilities," the news release said.
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