Agency Reform Update

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has stumbled in the past to fulfill its mission to protect the children in the state, but I am pleased to point out encouraging signs of progress.

As state legislators and I began to delve into the agency’s missteps, it was apparent that structural change was needed. The agency’s organizational chart looked like a science project. On July 31, The Oklahoman reported that an attorney at the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General will now serve as general counsel of the agency. Allowing the assistant attorney general to serve in this dual role will reduce the administrative costs of the agency while giving them more access to the resources of the Office of the Attorney General.

The change is part of a broader reorganization under the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan. It will consolidate several director roles and create new broader positions. The new positions include a director of communications and community relations that is led by the former director of communications, a new administrator that oversees all finance and administrative functions of the agency, a director that will oversee child care services and adult and family services, and a new chief of staff position.

The agency also suffered from integrity and accountability problems. Since my election, I have gotten bills signed into law to protect children from child predators. In 2012, I authored House Bill 3133, now law, which holds child welfare employees accountable by making them criminally responsible for falsifying or withholding information in child welfare cases that lead to a child’s death or injury. If convicted, their penalty will be two years in state prisons, a fine of $1,000, or both.

All Oklahomans are responsible for the welfare of the children in their state and it is up to us to serve as the voice of these innocent children who cannot yet vote or really truly advocate for themselves. This is the foundation of the child welfare system. I have been deeply disappointed when this agency has failed to fulfill its mission in the past. I think that anything I can do as a legislator to save the life of even one child, through reforms to the system, is well worth it. Please continue to bring me your ideas of reforms and I will continue to update you on the progress this agency is making.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I regularly check the calls I receive at the Capitol office at (405) 557-7407.

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