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DHS Releases Request for Information Regarding the Repurposing of the Laura Dester Center

Request for Information: The repurposing of the Laura Dester Center


The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Welfare Services (CWS) is interested in receiving information on potential proposals, plans, or ideas for the repurposing of the Laura Dester Children’s Center at 7318 E Pine St, Tulsa, OK 74115. The intent of this RFI is to allow all interested parties to have an equal and fair opportunity to participate in how the facility will be utilized for the betterment of Oklahoma children and the surrounding community.

Representing one of the final pieces of the plan to reduce and eventually discontinue the use of emergency shelters, the Laura Dester Children’s Center will no longer serve the community as an emergency shelter.

DHS and community leaders have explored and discussed at length potential uses for the facility. This RFI represents the official means of determining the number of interested parties, potential uses, and what the necessary next steps will be.

DHS will hold an open house July 12, 2016 at the Laura Dester Children’s Center; a guided tour will begin promptly at 10:00 am. This tour is specifically for those interested in submitting the Request for Information regarding its repurposing.

CLICK HERE to download the RFI. Instructions for filling it out and submitting it are included.

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The Chronicle of Social Change – With High Caseloads, L.A. County Again Faces Overstays in Shelters

“Three months after Los Angeles County shifted many hard-to-place children in foster care from two emergency shelters to four private contractors, the issue of children staying too long before finding a home persists. In one crisis situation, children were returned to the Children’s Welcome Center. In February, L.A. County’s Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) announced the closures of the Children’s and Youth Welcome Centers as part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought against the agency by the state. The lawsuit centered on chronic “overstays” by children at the facilities, which were licensed to keep children for up to 24 hours. After closing the welcome centers, the county contracted with four private agencies to serve as temporary, 72-hour shelters for youth who have been removed from their biological family’s home or previous foster placement while the agency works to find them new homes. But in recent weeks, some children have been temporarily placed at the Children’s Welcome Center for the first time since its closure.”

Read more by CLICKING HERE. Story published in The Chronicle of Social Change by Elizabeth Green on June 15, 2016.

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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


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.


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Researcher Find Trends in Tulsa Cases of Child Abuse & Neglect

“In Oklahoma, nearly 30 percent of confirmed child abuse and neglect cases also had reports of domestic violence in the house.

 A mother’s history of substance abuse and an unknown father — or many father figures — ups the chance for abusing a child. Neglect is more likely in families with a disabled child who doesn’t do well in school and has an uninvolved mother.

Advocates have always said these social problems are linked. Now, a University of Oklahoma researcher can say it for certain, backed by statistical data.

Associate professor of human relations Jody Worley has been giving presentations to interested audiences about a study he conducted analyzing Tulsa County cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect.

Last week, he was a featured speaker at an event sponsored by the Child Protection Coalition on the University of Tulsa campus. A panel discussion followed with representatives from several nonprofits working with at-risk families and abused and neglected children.

Only about 20 people attended. Maybe because it was scheduled on Election Day. Or perhaps there were just a lot of PTA meetings and baseball games happening.

But more people should have been there. Here is a bit about what was said.

Risk factors: In the research, Worley collected case-record information from the state Department of Human Services and met with workers in focus groups.

“I wanted to bring data to life, but you can’t do that because data are boring,” he said. “But I realize you see lives through the data. You need data to see the people. … We need a better understanding of the lives behind the data — of lives before the data are collected.”

Risk factors being tracked came largely from the industry-recognized Adverse Childhood Experience study, which is an ongoing, large-scale research project of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego.

Worley was able to put odds on the risk factors to gauge which ones may be more of a red flag than others. These statistics are specific to the Oklahoma and Tulsa cases.

Researchers, and common sense, say as more stressors pile onto a family, the likelihood of abuse and neglect is higher.

There were some differences between abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.

A mother’s history and behavior factored into each, but it was more of an effect in physical abuse along with the influence of men and a child’s temperament. Factors with a heavy impact on neglect were a mother’s lack of interest and a child’s inability to speak up.

Commonalities in sexual abuse cases were a mother who was molested, a child with mental health disorders or a difficult demeanor and the presence of a stepfather.

This is not painting all stepfathers with a broad brush, but it is put into context with other stressors.

Among the findings that stand out: 27 percent of cases had co-existing domestic violence and a lack of prevention services.

“It is easier to report abuse and neglect than it is to find support before abuse and neglect occurs,” Worley said. “What we do is respond to cases. The system reacts.

“There needs to be a change in the way we think about prevention, children and rights of children. It needs to move from individuals reacting to a community preventing. It needs a shift in public policy to focus on treatment, early intervention and prevention.””

Read the entire Tulsa World article written by Ginnie Graham by clicking HERE, published on April 10, 2016.

Dr. Jody Worley shares his research.

Dr. Jody Worley shares his research.

CPC Panel of Experts (left to right) Kelly Mounce - Indian Health Care Resource Center, Crystal Brill - DVIS, Ginnie Graham (Moderator) - Tulsa World, Rose Turner - Child Abuse Network, Christine Marsh - Family & Children's Services

CPC Panel of Experts (left to right) Kelly Mounce – Indian Health Care Resource Center, Crystal Brill – DVIS, Ginnie Graham (Moderator) – Tulsa World, Rose Turner – Child Abuse Network, Christine Marsh – Family & Children’s Services


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Coalition “Community Forum” Reports on the State of Child Abuse and Child Welfare Systems in Tulsa County

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Member Spotlight: A Q&A With Judge Doris Fransein – District Judge, Juvenile Division

The Child Protection Coalition is grateful to have the Honorable Doris Fransein, District Judge of the Juvenile Division as a Charter Member. Earlier this month, our staff had the opportunity to ask a few questions about the work she and the Juvenile Court do on behalf of children in our community. Judge Fransein has been the chief judge of the juvenile division since 2005. She was re-elected in 2014 after running unopposed. Her current term expires on January 13, 2019. She received a B.A. from Drury College and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa. Judge Fransein is also an adjunct professor of juvenile law at the University of Tulsa College of Law

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

Judge Fransein: Court resources.  Case loads are heavy with inadequate time to fully address the issues that face the child and his or her family system.  Hopefully, we will have more space within the near future and court resources once the state’s budget crisis is behind us.

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

Judge Fransein: Ensuring that the children’s needs are being met and that they are safe – mentally, physically and emotionally.

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

Judge Fransein: Our court teams are dedicated and work harder than any other division of the courts.

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

Judge Fransein: The Court is a very necessary part of the Child Welfare System and ensures that the legal rights of all parties are being met.  This adds a necessary balance to the Coalition.

THANK YOU to Judge Fransein and her staff for all they do for children in Tulsa County!


District Judge Doris Fransein, chief judge of the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, speaks during a deprived-child custody hearing in her courtroom.

District Judge Doris Fransein, chief judge of the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, speaks during a deprived-child custody hearing in her courtroom.

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Tulsa advocates, DHS working on dwindling Laura Dester Shelter numbers

The inevitable is coming: The Laura Dester Shelter will close, but it’s a painful winding-down.

Since the announcement a year ago from DHS with specific dates to end shelter use, Tulsa leaders have been meeting with DHS officials to resolve lingering concerns about what happens to children in emergency removals.

“There have been many substantive and productive meetings to date and we certainly have hit the reset button as far as discussions are concerned. … There are still challenges to overcome, but we can definitely see a path now for improvement in situations where children removed are emergently from dangerous situations.” said Kristine Bridges, Executive Director of the Tulsa County Child Protection Coalition.

Read the entire Tulsa World story by clicking HERE, published March 14, 2016.

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DHS reports on efforts to meet Pinnacle Plan requirements

Tyler Talley, eCapitol

Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Ed Lake described his agency’s efforts Wednesday in meeting requirements set forth by the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan to the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services.

The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan is the result of a class action, civil rights lawsuit filed against the agency’s foster care system that included agreements to make required improvements in targeted areas of the state’s Child Welfare system. The plan is intended to guide the agency over the coming years as it works towards making improvements in the way it care for children within the foster care system.

Lake said that efforts DHS has made in meeting the goals of the plan have led to a reduction to the amount of children in the foster care system. This however has not led to an effect on the agency’s savings. DHS has received a total of $108.8 million for the Pinnacle Plan, but has had to reallocate $45.7 million of its own budget in order to meet the plan’s requirements by increasing its workforce to meet the number of children in foster care. These funds cover staffing and services.

When asked by Chair Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, how much staff had been added since the plan’s implementation, Lake said about 900 positions and still hiring.

“We’re at 60 percent of the workload standards, but that’s one of those statistics that’s a little deceiving,” Lake said. He explained that in some areas DHS has already hit the standard.

“It kind of depends on turnovers, size and other issues like that,” he added.

DHS requested an $11.3 million increase to its FY2017 appropriation in order to fund the Pinnacle Plan’s fifth and final year.

“This last amount is primarily, almost exclusively to complete the salary increase work for the child welfare specialists,” Lake said. “At the very beginning, those salaries were pegged at a certain level based on regional and market data…with this appropriation we would meet that mark.”

The requested funds would also go toward the final scheduled rate increase for foster and adoptive families. Lake explained that “well over 90 percent” of the $108.8 million in Pinnacle Plan funding went to these required salary and rate increases.

Lake said he believed staffing to be the most important aspect in ensuring the plan’s success.

“It’s the lynch pin that allows us to continue to do other things that make a difference,” Lake said. “Every time we’ve been able to ratchet up the staffing and focus on these issues, we’ve started to make significant progress.”

He added, “I think from a legislative budget point of view, nobody can say that Oklahoma didn’t live up to its commitments to try to fund the Pinnacle Plan.”

For FY2016, Lake said the agency had made significant reductions to accommodate the three percent revenue failure, including a department-wide hiring freeze with the exception of Child Welfare Specialists.

He continued, “We have reduced contracts paying on their projected spending levels. We have done the same with our program budgets. We did further reduced contacts by three percent. We’ve eliminated or reduced a number of emergency accounts that we have.”

As the agency heads into the upcoming fiscal year and potentially future cuts to its budget, Lake said their budget planning strategy included: continuing to evaluate its expenditures, programs and service priorities; preparing for impacts to its various client services and examining the impacts of reducing potential positions within the agency.

“We can’t fail at child welfare,” Lake said. “If we fail are child welfare, it’s a statement about DHS….we’re going to do all we can to push through, but there will be a price to be paid.”

Lake also outlined some of the agency’s other programs, such as its disability and aging services, face due to a lack sufficient funding due to its requirements to fund the Pinnacle Plan.

“The well is running dry,” Lake said. “That’s just the way it is. I hate it. I don’t like this ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.'”

Other human services agencies that presented before the subcommittee Wednesday offered their respective appropriation requests as well as the efforts being made to cut costs.

Another agency asking for a change in its appropriations was the Department of Rehabilitation Services. The requested $257,000 funding increase would exclusively be for costs related to both the Oklahoma School for the Blind and the Oklahoma School for the Deaf.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) requested a flat budget for FY2017. The OJA Board of Directors approved a budget reduction for its FY2016 appropriations in January. Chief of Programs Janelle Bretten, who additionally services as the agency’s interim executive director, and Steven Buck, the incoming OJA executive director, provided committee members examples of the work the agency does throughout the state and its intended goals for the upcoming year.

The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth offered a 3.0 percent reduced appropriation of $59.186.19.

Concluding the human services subcommittee meeting was the Office of Disability Concerns, who requested a FY2017 flat budget.