OKDHS Oversight Report

Ponca City Now - April 8, 2024 5:59 am

Oklahoma Representative John Talley-District 33.

By Rep. John Talley

Recently, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill that I gladly coauthored to help Oklahoma’s 4-H students.

House Bill 1006 grants 4-H students an excused absence when participating in an approved activity. The author of the bill, Rep. Rick West from Heavener, has been working to get this bill passed for four years.

I have heard from numerous students who love participating in 4-H but can’t receive an excused absence for activities that take them out of school, unlike students participating in FFA, athletics and other school-sanctioned activities. These absences mean their grades are often negatively affected since they can’t make up missed work. HB1006 would change that and will take effect before the next school year.

In committee work this week, I passed Senate Bill 1638 through the House Children, Youth and Family Services Committee, which I chair.

SB1638 brings Oklahoma into compliance with federal law and requires that reports submitted to law enforcement about a child missing from foster placement must include a photo of the missing child, a detailed description of their physical features, and information about potential endangerment. The measure requires the Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services (DHS) to maintain regular communication with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to provide for the safe recovery of a missing or abducted child.

On Thursday afternoon, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) released a report on adoption and parent support programs within DHS, and I attended the Oversight Committee meeting where the findings were discussed.

Between Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2023, Oklahoma experienced a 44% decrease in the number of children entering state custody. As of Fiscal Year 2023, Oklahoma has the lowest figure of children in state custody in more than two decades.

The historic reduction of children in state custody is largely due to changes in how DHS applies child safety designations. The number of cases designated “safe” increased 90% in ten years, with a higher amount of cases designated “unsafe” being assigned to Family Centered Services rather than state custody. Family Centered Services offers intervention to families to help them stay together after a safety concern has been identified by CPS.

We want to try to keep kids in their homes whenever possible because removal is traumatic, but we have to make sure we are not doing this at the expense of their safety.

For children placed in state custody, it takes on average 17 months to reunify families, which ranked us second to last in the nation in 2021. However, we had the second lowest rate of reentry, which indicates that while reunification takes longer in Oklahoma, its effects are more permanent. LOFT found that this could be partially due to the prioritization of Family Centered Services to support families and help solve the root issue. Families working to achieve reunification often face barriers to receiving the required services, such as transportation, lack of providers, waiting lists, work schedules, and the cost of services, which Family Centered Services assists with.

The report included some recommendations to the agency and the Legislature, including establishing a better system of oversight. LOFT also suggested requiring the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to annually track and provide a report on its public website of several performance metrics.

DHS has come a long way, but there is still progress to be made. I look forward to continuing to work with them to improve outcomes for our kids.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me at 405-557-7304 or [email protected] to discuss any bills or questions I may be able to help with. Thank you for the honor of representing House District 33 at the State Capitol!

Rep. John Talley, a Republican, serves District 33 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which covers Logan and Payne Counties.

 

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