DHS to cut child-welfare workers
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
12/02/09 at 4:20 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Department of Human Services is decreasing the number of child welfare workers it employs, the Commission for Human Services was told Tuesday.
In May, the Department of Human Services employed 1,095 child-welfare workers, a figure that declined to 1,056 in October.
Plans call for reducing that further to 997 through attrition, said Marq Youngblood, chief operating officer for DHS.
The agency increased the number of child-welfare workers at a time when it had a backlog of cases to investigate and work, Youngblood said. Additional staff members were added to compensate for a high turnover rate, which has dropped off, he said.
The agency believes that the reduction won't result in harm to children because the number of children in out-of-home placement has dramatically decreased, Youngblood said.
In July 2007, the agency had 12,222 children in its care, a figure that has decreased to 9,816, he said.
In addition, the number of calls to the child-abuse hot line are down, DHS Director Howard Hendrick said.
Confirmed cases of abuse and neglect are down, too, Youngblood said, adding that "I believe 997 will be sufficient."
The agency is still filling child-welfare positions, but not at the same rate that it had been, Youngblood said.
Child-welfare workers investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. They also try to find a permanent home for the child. It could include reunification with a biological parent or adoption, Youngblood said.
State agencies have been told to cut their budgets by 5 percent a month through the end of the fiscal year — June 30 — because of decreasing state revenues. More cuts are possible.
The reduction in child- welfare workers is in part a response to the required budget cuts, Youngblood said.
Children's Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group, last year filed a class action lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, accusing it of mistreating children in its custody.
When asked about the lawsuit, Youngblood said the reduction in workers could be brought up. But the allegations in the lawsuit were made when the agency had a lot more children in its care, he said.
Food stamp numbers: Hendrick also said at the meeting that the number of food-stamp recipients continued to hit record levels. In October, 546,988 people received food stamps, up from 432,642 in October of 2008.
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465