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Member Spotlight: Tulsa CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Tulsa CASA  recruits, screens, trains and supervises community volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the juvenile court system.  They are specially trained volunteers who are appointed by a juvenile judge to serve as the child’s voice in court.  A CASA is responsible for meeting with and gathering information from the child, their family, other individuals and service providers on a child’s case. This information is compiled in a report to the court illustrating the CASA’s concerns, assessments and recommendations.  This information assists the judge in determining the best possible placement for a child.

Recently, Child Protection Coalition staff spoke with Maura Wilson-Guten, Tulsa CASA’s Executive Director, regarding the challenges and rewards of her work.

CPC: What are the challenges you face within the child welfare system in Tulsa County?

Ms. Wilson-Guten: Our biggest challenge is having enough volunteers to serve the nearly 2,000 children in foster care in Tulsa County.  Presently there are only enough CASAs to serve on about 25% of the cases.  Our wish is to provide a CASA for every child who needs one.

CPC: What do you feel are the positive impacts you make on kids’ lives in our community?

Ms. Wilson-Guten: CASAs are known as “a powerful voice in a child’s life”  We know that children who have a CASA receive more services, do better in school,  find permanency faster and are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system than children without a CASA.

CPC: What is one thing you would like the public to know about your job?

Ms. Wilson-Guten: Upon learning of a CASA’s role many people say “oh, I could never do that” but you can!  All it takes is one caring adult to change the life of a child.  CASAs are assigned after a child has been removed from an abusive situation and assist in helping them find a safe, permanent home.  We are part of the solution.

CPC: Why are you a part of the Child Protection Coalition in Tulsa County?

Ms. Wilson-Guten: The Child Protection Coalition is probably the single most important professional organization that we are a member of.  Very few professional fields possess a network as powerful and unified as child welfare  does.  The system collaboration that exists in CPC is remarkable and effective and the child clients our organizations mutually serve are better off because of it.

CASA Volunteers at Official Swearing In by Judge Hiddle

CASA Volunteers at Official Swearing In by Judge Hiddle

Thank you to all our Tulsa County CASA Volunteers for their hard work and dedication! 

Learn more about Tulsa CASA, including how to volunteer, by visiting their website today! www.tulsacasa.org

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Member Spotlight: Tulsa Lawyers for Children Represent the Most Vulnerable Children in Our Community

Tulsa Lawyers for Children’s (TLC) mission is to ensure the effective and zealous representation of abused and neglected children in Tulsa County by recruiting, training and assisting volunteer attorneys.

Recently, Child Protection Coalition staff spoke with TLC’s Executive Director, Elizabeth C. Hocker, about her role, her volunteers, and how her agency impacts the lives of Tulsa’s children. Here’s what she said:

“It’s been a year since I assumed the job duties and responsibilities of Executive Director for Tulsa Lawyers for Children, and what a year it has been. This small nonprofit was formerly established in 2000 to represent abused and neglected children in Tulsa County – Juvenile Bureau District Court. Usually, the Public Defender’s office is appointed to represent children, but when there is a conflict due to criminal charges or siblings have different positions on reunification, TLC is appointed. Last year, there was a 65% increase in referrals and 40% of all the children we represent are in foster home placements outside of Tulsa County.

An incredible cadre of attorneys have responded to the call to provide pro bono legal services. Three of the newest volunteers are from Gable Gotwals – Stacy Brklacich, Erin Daily and Robert Carlson. The number of volunteer attorneys has grown from 23 to 75 in one year. However, more attorneys are needed. TLC provides specialized training to equip even transactional attorneys to zealously advocate on behalf of their child clients!

Sometimes, these attorneys are the only constant in a child’s life. Children may move from one foster home to another, parents may fail to correct conditions and stay enmeshed in unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles and social workers may come and go. These specially trained volunteer attorneys respond to a myriad of issues to aggressively and passionately represent their clients in court.

I think it is critical for the citizens of Tulsa to know how adversely the next generation is being impacted by abuse, neglect, poverty and the lack of mental health and educational opportunities. Poor policy decisions on the state level are exacerbating an already taxed and burdened system. Our clients, newborns, toddlers, young children and teens are bearing the brunt of so many bad choices made by adults.

Tulsa Lawyers for Children belongs to the [Child Protection] Coalition because it is one strong, unified and cohesive voice advocating for what is best for our most vulnerable citizens- abused and neglected children.”

Tulsa Lawyers for Children is a Charter Member of the Tulsa County Child Protection Coalition. Learn more about them, including how to become a volunteer, by visiting their website today!

www.tulsalawyersforchildren.org

TLC

 

 

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Tulsa World: Tulsa baby’s death in dirty shed spurs DHS to discipline employees, review two years of child abuse, neglect deaths

The January death of a 5-month-old Tulsa boy has prompted an internal review of two years of cases by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and pending disciplinary actions against some of its employees.

Starting at birth, Arrow Hyden had the attention of medical staff when his mother tested positive for marijuana at the time of delivery. Anna Marie Hyden, 23, admitted months later to a DHS worker she used heroin and drank alcohol up through her last trimester, according to a report from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.

Through the next few months and a total of five contacts, DHS workers ruled referrals for neglect as “unsubstantiated.” These determinations were made even though home visits revealed intoxicated caregivers, a mother admitting she used meth and a failed safety plan.

Arrow was 5 months old when he died on Jan. 16. His mother and her boyfriend, Kevin Lee Crawford, 52, are facing charges of child neglect related to his death. Crawford has additional drug charges.

DHS Director Ed Lake said a review of Arrow’s death began immediately and has since been completed. Facts emerged quickly that resulted in all staff involved in the decisions being removed from their roles, Lake said.

“When notified of Arrow’s death, I was shaken, saddened and disturbed,” Lake said. “Arrow was mistreated and neglected through no fault of his own, and indications are that our staff did not effectively intervene to possibly prevent this tragic outcome. I am also disturbed that, given the comprehensive changes we have made in our child protective services program over the past several years, the facts suggest such poor decisions were made when it came to protecting Arrow’s safety.”

Read the entire Tulsa World story by clicking HERE – published April 29, 2016. 

Read Director Ed Lake’s entire response to the death Arrow Hyden by CLICKING HERE.

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Tulsa World: DHS monitors fret over budget cuts impacting child welfare

Big gains have been made in eliminating shelter use for abused and neglected children, but problems persist in maltreatment of foster children and finding placements for kids with special needs, according to a progress report released Friday.

But the state’s $1.3 billion shortfall is a significant concern from the monitors of an improvement plan for Oklahoma’s child-welfare system. The three-person oversight committee of the Department of Human Services’ Pinnacle Plan, which is the agreement stemming from a federal class-action lawsuit, found a mixed bag of results since its last report in December.

“DHS began to show meaningful progress toward reasonable caseloads late in 2014, and continued to do so through the most recent period,” the report states. “For this reason, it is deeply concerning that DHS may not maintain all planned activities in this reform effort due to Oklahoma’s reported revenue failures. The gains made by DHS since 2012 are fragile, and in many instances have not taken root firmly within the agency. Following the investment of new resources to set this agency on a trajectory of reform, it could be a shattering setback for children, DHS, and this reform, if efforts now halt and progress is reversed.”

Read the entire Tulsa World Article by clicking here – published on April 30, 2016.

CLICK HERE to read OKDHS Director Ed Lake’s comments on April 2016 commentary from neutral monitors overseeing child welfare progress.