OK Foster Care Not OK, Lawsuit Seeks a Fix
The civil justice system can be a powerful tool not just for those looking to hold corporations accountable, but also to those who wish to make sure the government is doing what it is supposed to do to protect us. And when it comes to children, no one can argue that this is of any less than the most critical importance.
That’s why a child advocacy organization called Children’s Rights has filed a class action lawsuit against Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services for what many say are severe inadequacies in its foster care system. With its 9 named plaintiffs, the lawsuit alleges many things, including the following:
• Children are abused and neglected in DHS custody at a very high rate.
• DHS places children in unsafe homes and overcrowded, understaffed emergency shelters.
• DHS bounces children from one unstable foster placement to another.
• DHS workers have excessive caseloads and turnover.
• DHS has dangerous monitoring and oversight practices.
• DHS makes Insufficient efforts to develop and maintain an adequate pool of foster care placements.
An article in today’s New York Times describes underpaid and inexperienced case workers with a high turnover rate, ineffective execution of court orders that would secure important services for foster children, and gaping holes in the system for investigating possible abuse and molestation by foster parents. The article also profiles several stories of children who’ve gone through the system, surveying some of the trials they’ve endured, probably unnecessarily.
Defenders of Oklahoma’s foster system are fighting the lawsuit, known as D.G. v. Henry. According to the Times, they say that the system “has strengths and weaknesses” but that “Oklahoma is very aggressive at protecting children.” Apparently not aggressive enough, though.
It appears that the external pressure and public exposure of litigation may be the only way to get some movement in the right direction for abused and neglected children who enter the foster care system only to be further (and often more egregiously) victimized. Other efforts to bring attention to this problem over the past decade have been unsuccessful, so child advocates have moved on to a class action lawsuit in efforts to get some serious improvements for these children. The lawsuit, if nothing else, is drawing much needed attention to the children’s experiences and to what seems to be a crumbling and dysfunctional state department.
This isn’t the only state department with severe problems, and this isn’t the only lawsuit that has drawn attention and catalyzed much needed change. Here’s an article that highlights how other lawsuits have done the same with regard to segregation in the schools, improper treatment of juvenile offenders and mistreatment of developmentally delayed residents in state facilities.