Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DHS Commission Votes to Settle Class Action Lawsuit

Reform Effort Shifts Gears

Oklahoma City—The Human Services Commission of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services held a special meeting December 20, 2011 at 5:30 PM to consider a settlement proposal in the DG vs. Yarbrough class action lawsuit.  Commission members approved a motion by a vote of 6 to 3 to authorize Chairman Brad Yarbrough to sign a settlement if approved by the Contingency Review Board. 

“While the terms of the settlement remain confidential, I can say that the terms are unique in this kind of litigation,” said Howard Hendrick, Director of OKDHS.  “Both sides were willing to entertain a new approach to resolving class action civil rights claims involving child welfare systems.  The strength of our defense and the excellent work our child welfare workers do every day changed the conversation about how these kinds of cases should be resolved.  The future improvements, the details of which must yet be developed, are outlined in a framework that both sides hope will satisfy our shared desire to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.”

The Contingency Review Board consists of the Governor, Speaker of the House, and the Senate Pro Tem.  The board is expected to meet on Wednesday, December 28 to review the settlement proposal.

The commission first met in executive session for more than five hours before returning to open session to vote on the proposed settlement.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt intervened in the lawsuit shortly after taking office earlier this year. Intense work by Pruitt and his staff along with DHS commissioners taking a more active role in the litigation in recent months led to the proposed settlement. 

The settlement is good news because the state is avoiding a potential takeover of our foster care system by the federal courts. It's good news for children in foster care because the agreement is focused on improving safety for children in state custody.

A working group created by Speaker Kris Steele in September continues meeting around the state with DHS stakeholders exploring ways to improve the entire child welfare system. 

The speaker has positioned the House of Representatives well by beginning work on significant structural reforms well before last night's vote by the commission. The working group plans to present a report containing findings and recommendations before the start of the 2012 legislative session. 

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