Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sanders, Morrissette Demand DHS Reform

With headlines and statistics telling the tale of failures to provide adequate protection for those children placed in their care and custody, Rep. Mike Sanders, District 59 (R-Kingfisher) and Rep. Richard Morrissette, District 92 (D-OKC), are demanding an immediate halt to business as usual by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

“This morning we awoke to yet another headline in The Oklahoman that tells of ongoing failures at the department resulting in the death of yet another Oklahoma child.” stated Sanders and Morrissette.

Fifty children - on average - continue to die annually under the care of the Department of Human Services. Oklahoma is one of four states that have had an increase in child deaths.

“How long do they, the Commission, and Director Hendricks, expect us to abide this issue which is now clearly systemic within the department to the extent that we can predict with certainty a future tragedy?” asked Rep. Sanders.

Sanders serves as Vice Chairman of the House Human Services Committee which oversees the formation of policy and necessary statutory changes required to provide direction for the Department of Human Services.

“In 2008, I brought HB2596 with the intention of reducing the burden upon child welfare case workers and those who administer these cases on behalf of Oklahoma children taken into custody by the department because of abuse and neglect within the home. That legislation involved breaking the department into the three manageable divisions. The bill was not allowed to be heard in committee and children keep dyeing.” stated Morrissette in frustration.

The House of Representatives under Speaker Chris Benge did allow for a performance audit of the agency, which came with a price tag of more than $430,000. The audit report made suggestions for significant policy changes, but, to date, only a handful of those have been implemented and many others in only partial compliance.

The Department of Human Services Commission, whose task is to oversee the workings at the agency, have openly admitted to not even having read the report.

“We now demand that these commissioners come before the legislature to answer directly as to why they continue to neglect their responsibilities and to ignore the needs of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable resulting in the deaths of so many innocent children.” stated Sanders.

DHS Commissioners admit openly to failing to read the in-depth performance audit prepared by Hornby Zeller Associates.

“This is an opportunity for the Commission to address the need for a complete overhaul of their mission statement, practices and procedures and to adopt the remainder of the audit recommendations: NO MORE PASSING THE BUCK! CHILDREN DESERVE BETTER…THE PEOPLE OF OKLAHOMA DESERVE BETTER!”

Morrissette has worked on this idea of requiring answers from DHS since 2008. Sanders has been very vocal during this past session regarding particular cases within his House district dealing with DHS incompetence.

The plan Morrissette and Sanders will outline at a press conference to be held Monday at 2 PM will involve requiring DHS Commissioners, individually, to come before the legislature to answer direct questions regarding DHS policies and practices.

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