- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Human Services plans to close a pair of emergency shelters for abused and neglected children within six to nine months.

Director Ed Lake told the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1EY5FKj ) that the number of children entering foster care is down. He says foster-home certifications are up and placements into homes are happening quickly.

“It’s encouraging,” Lake said. “It is not a time to dance on tables, but it is encouraging.”

Officials plan to shutter Tulsa’s Laura Dester Shelter and Oklahoma City’s Pauline E. Mayer Shelter. The closures will make the state compliant with a goal to eliminate shelter use as part of a settlement in a 2008 federal class-action lawsuit.

The shelters served as temporary housing until child-welfare workers could locate suitable foster homes. The lawsuit alleged children were left there for too long and was settled three years ago.

The department eliminated shelter use for infants and toddlers in 2012. The exact time of the shelter closures depends on how soon the remaining children can be placed into foster or group homes.

About 115 staff members work in the shelters. Lake said employees wishing to remain with the department will be able to transition to other child-welfare jobs.

Lake said he will convene meetings in Tulsa with the shelter’s supporters and stakeholder to discuss future plans. The campus could be transformed into transitional living, homes for young mothers or other community needs.

“This is a community decision,” Lake said. “We are totally open to any and all ideas and what happens moving forward.”

Marcia Robinson Lowry, who led the lawsuit against the department, said the shelters are a symptom of a broken system.

“Closing of the shelters are important and it is certainly better for kids,” Lowry said. “It’s a good step forward without a doubt.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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