Human Services Reforms

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

House lawmakers have passed several Senate bills out of committee that deal with child welfare. I continue to be highly concerned about this topic, as there have been child welfare crises locally as well as across the state.

The legislation that I think will be most critical is Senate Bill 639. The measure authorizes the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations to create a child abuse response team. Child welfare issues have always taken a greater amount of experience to investigate because of the delicate matter of dealing with crimes committed within families. Specialists in this area, in one of the top law enforcement agencies in the state, will greatly improve the prosecution of child abuse cases, including those that occur under the oversight of the Department of Human Services or in foster care.

Senate Bill 200 directs the Office of Juvenile Affairs to establish a foster care program for children in custody and specifies that foster care providers must meet licensing standards created by the Board of Juvenile Affairs and the Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act. The legislation requires the agency to enter into a written contract with every foster care placement and provide the relevant information about the child to foster care parents at the time of placement. The specifications will help encourage individuals to offer foster care services by standardizing the sharing of information.

Senate Bill 460 requires the Department of Human Services to record all incoming calls to the child abuse hotline and keep the recordings for 90 days. This is simply an accountability bill to further improve this agency.

Senate Bill 917 modifies provisions of the Child Care Facilities Licensing Act to exempt certain child care related programs such as home schooling programs, summer camps and on-base military programs. The legislation also requires a sex offender registry check related to facility employees.

Although a number of critical reforms were made last year in the area of child welfare, I think these four bills are among necessary efforts to continue improving a critical government service.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns at (405) 557-7407 or emails me at mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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