- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A new report released this week detailed shortcomings of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, including hours of waiting by people calling the state agency’s child abuse hotline.

It found the department has about 1,250 child abuse and neglect investigations that are overdue, about 200 of which have been overdue for more than six months.

But the Wednesday report also noted improvements by the department in decreasing how many children under 6 stay in shelters and caseworkers completing required visits with children in the last fiscal year, The Oklahoman reported (https://bit.ly/1zdsLxi ). Caseworkers made 118,824 out of 123,343 required visits, a compliance rate of 96.3 percent.

Sheree Powell, a department spokeswoman, also noted that while there is an investigations backlog, the number has declined significantly from the 3,600-case backlog a year ago.

The findings are from experts assigned to monitor Oklahoma’s compliance with a settlement in a class-action lawsuit. The settlement led to the Pinnacle Plan, the state’s $153 million plan for overhauling the foster care system. The Wednesday report is the third released so far.

“While we still have a long way to go before we can be completely satisfied with our services, we are making progress to make this system better for kids and families,” said DHS Director Ed Lake.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, an attorney for the children’s advocacy group that sued DHS over its child welfare efforts, criticized the agency for not meeting reform goals.

“Now, two years into the implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, and with additional resources from the Legislature, this agency continues to fail children, with inexcusable examples of mismanagement and resulting harm to children,” Lowry said in a news release.

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

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