- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma had more children abused or neglected by foster parents in 2015 than any state in the nation, a federal report shows.

The report released in January by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows 150 cases of child abuse or neglect by Oklahoma foster parents during the year.

The number includes 62 confirmed maltreatment cases by staff at Oklahoma group homes and residential facilities.

“We all agree it’s too high,” Oklahoma Department of Human Services spokeswoman Sheree Powell told The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/2lyktz3 ). “We’ve got to bring this down. That’s what all of our efforts are focused on.”

The numbers reflect data from federal fiscal year 2015, when Oklahoma was into the fourth year of implementing an ongoing child welfare overhaul as part of a settlement to a federal lawsuit.

Jami Ledoux, DHS child welfare director, said that within the past year she has seen reason for optimism, including new programs designed to detect warning signs before abuse occurs.

Previously, complaints against foster parents would be screened out, just like any other complaint, if the allegations didn’t rise to the level of abuse or neglect. Now such complaints are given a second look and the agency is more likely to step in and try to resolve a reported problem before it escalates to abuse, Ledoux said.

The department also is quick to increase monitoring when it detects an increase in the number of complaints from a particular group home or residential facility, she said.

The statistics released by the federal government are more than a year old because of the time it takes to gather and verify data, Ledoux noted. She said there have been two overlapping reporting periods since then, and the unverified data shows a decrease in the rate of children being maltreated in state care in each of those two periods.

“I believe that we have the right initiatives in place. I really do,” she said. “We’re just going to double down on those interventions that we put into place.”

Ledoux also noted that Oklahoma requires more frequent home visits by child welfare workers than some states, which may make it more likely that they would detect abuse and neglect when it happens.

“Regardless of that, it’s still too high,” she said of Oklahoma’s maltreatment rate. “I don’t want to put that out there as an excuse.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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