DHS reaches goal to move babies, tots from shelters, into homes
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2013
1/03/13 at 7:17 AM
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As of the new year, no Oklahoma DHS children's shelters or DHS-contracted shelters have children younger than 2 sleeping under their roofs.
Oklahoma child welfare officials announced Wednesday they had met one of their major goals by placing all children younger than 2 in family-like environments rather than shelters.
The Pinnacle Plan, DHS' child-welfare improvement plan, was developed in response to federal class-action lawsuit settlement reached last year. The plan sets deadlines for goals during the next several years.
The Department of Human Services plans to have all children 6 and younger out of shelters by June 30 and all children younger than 13 out of shelters by June 30, 2014, according to the agency's Pinnacle Plan.
"This was a very important goal for our state to achieve not only for the Pinnacle Plan - it's the right thing to do for young children," said Deborah Smith, Director of OKDHS Child Welfare Services. "I am very proud of our child welfare staff. Achieving this goal has taken a lot of teamwork, and I commend everyone for their efforts."
Kay Saunders, director of Tulsa's Laura Dester Children's Center, 7318 E. Pine St., said that prior to the new rules, the Tulsa shelter housed as many as eight toddlers younger than 2.
"Babies are a favorite for lots of our volunteers and staff," Saunders said. "We've loved the babies, but we also know it's really important for them to be in family-like settings. I can't tell you we're not a little sad and miss them, though."
With fewer babies in the shelter's future, Saunders said the center and advocacy groups have been able to focus more of their resources onto an older age group.
"I think that we'll be getting resources that will be more centered to the older children," Saunders said. "Our advocacy board had focused a lot of their efforts toward the babies, and now they are looking at centering it more toward the older children."
As part of reaching the goal, DHS has been expanding their foster-parent programs - recruiting new foster parents across the state who can take children into their homes.
Terry Cline, state secretary of health and human services, said the Pinnacle Plan has various timetables for goals within the plan.
"We are in for a very good year in terms of getting the pieces in place," Cline said. "DHS has historically been under-resourced. We had very dedicated case workers who were struggling to keep up. We've had increased funding through legislation, which has resulted in the hiring of additional staff and that will enable our caseworkers to dedicate more time to each family."
Since July 1, 930 new foster parents have joined DHS foster parent ranks, according to DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell.
To reach the next June 30 deadline, DHS needs to recruit 2,000 new foster families, according to the release.
Exceptions are allowed to the DHS rule of keeping children younger than 2 out of shelters. Those exceptions include medically fragile children who need 24-hour supervision, large sibling groups of four or more and teen moms with infants.
Goals already attained in the Pinnacle Plan include raising reimbursement rates for foster parents, increasing salaries for child welfare workers and restructuring the DHS Child Welfare Division.
Original Print Headline: DHS reaches goal
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
Kelsey Sanchez (right) helps bring children to their residential building in Tulsa's Laura Dester Shelter. The state Department of Human Services now has no children younger than 2 in its shelters. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Boys spend time playing video games at Tulsa's Laura Dester Shelter. DHS plans to have all children ages 6 and younger out of shelters by June 30 and all children younger than 13 out of shelters by June 30, 2014, goals put forth under the Pinnacle Plan. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
A girl looks out the doors of her residential building at Tulsa's Laura Dester Children's Center on Friday. The state Department of Human Services now has no children younger than 2 in its shelters, a goal put forth under the Pinnacle Plan. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World