- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

MIAMI, Okla. (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Human Services will cut 200 positions while adding 300 child welfare workers to help address the high number of children in state custody, director Ed Lake said Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Sheree Powell estimated that up to 60 of the 200 positions are currently filled by employees. The agency is offering a voluntary severance package that includes longevity and service payments to the workers, but if not enough people accept the buyout offer, a reduction in force might be implemented.

The focus on child welfare stems from the Pinnacle Plan agreement, which is the 3-year-old settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit. Under the agreement, limits on caseloads and worker-client ratios were established.

The plan was based on the number of children in custody at the time, but the number has grown since then. In 2012, it was around 8,500, and now it’s at an estimated 11,100.

To help pay for the new positions, the department is shifting money from reductions in other areas to the child welfare division.

“I know that seems counterintuitive, but as an integral part of our efforts to address the high number of children currently in our custody and continue our progress to reduce workload levels as required by the Pinnacle Plan, we need more child welfare specialists, and we need them now,” Lake said in an email to staff.

The department is the largest state agency with about 7,000 employees.

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