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State House Promises DHS Changes (Oct 20, 2011)

What is being promised as a major overhaul of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services started Wednesday with the naming of a state House panel charged with a top-to-bottom, detailed review of every job, policy and practice of DHS.

Recent high profile deaths of children in the state’s custody, including one girl who was returned to her father even though she was injured earlier while with him, and another child who tested positive for illegal drugs when she was born, yet allowed to stay with her mother, who also had drugs in her system, have raised the level of frustration with the agency, one of the largest in state government. State House Speaker Kris Steele named three Republicans and two Democrats to the DHS task force. Steele says it’s time for a full review rather than the piecemeal approach typically used by lawmakers in dealing with DHS.

This new review and promise of reform not only has the approval of the state House, but also has the support of the governor, the commission that oversees DHS, the state’s public employee’s group, and DHS Director Howard Hendrick.

Hendrick says the fact that the panel is seeking solutions instead of already having them ready-to-go is a positive step.

About three years ago, a 171-page audit of the state Department of Human Services listed at least 25 changes to improve the agency. Steele told the five members of the new panel to dust off that report and see what’s left to be done.

The chairman of the task force, state Rep. Jason Nelson, says while the prior report is a starting point, this time, lawmakers are working toward comprehensive change.

The panel plans to conduct much of its study in the field, talking with DHS workers, district attorneys, judges, and families about the agency.

A public report on the group’s findings is supposed to be presented during a public meeting sometime next year.

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