Posted: Aug 12, 2011 9:43 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The child advocacy group suing the state's child welfare system claims the abuse rate of Oklahoma foster children is four times higher than the federal standard.DHS says it's simply not true and they're trying to get the federal class action lawsuit thrown out.
In a blur of briefs, DHS attorneys and the child advocacy group Children's Rights have been going at each other.
DHS says the agency is improving on its own and it doesn't need a federal judge to intervene.
Children's Rights lawyers say, if a federal judge doesn't step in, the next ten years of DHS will be like the last and likely worst.
DHS says far fewer children are coming through the halls of shelters. The agency claims reforms have dramatically reduced the foster population from more than 12,000 back in 2007 to about 8,200 now.
It's just some of the proof DHS attorneys point to when they say this federal class action lawsuit isn't necessary.
Children's Rights, which represents Oklahoma foster children, say what you really need to examine is the care those children are given. They claim the abuse of Oklahoma foster children is inexcusably high.
Court documents reveal in 2010, 103 children were abused while in the state's care. It's only a fraction of the state's foster kids, but the rate is almost 2 and a half times the federal standard.
And Children's Rights say those numbers aren't even right, because DHS doesn't report when its own staff workers abuse foster children.
Court records say that would add 80 abused children, raising the rate to 1.4 percent, which is four times the federal standard.
DHS argues the vast majority of foster kids are never abused and they say more children are being returned safely to their families, with only 6 percent returning to the system. That's twice as good as the national average.
DHS attorneys also argue Children's Rights are looking at a sample. and they're looking at real numbers tracked with a federally approved computer system.
Children's Rights says the DHS's own IT specialist admits the computer system is flawed.
This case is supposed to go to trial next February.