Disturbed by Discipline Record at DHS

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A Sunday story in The Oklahoman analyzed disciplinary problems at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. According to the agency’s records, more than 125 employees were fired, suspended without pay or demoted last year.

The story was troubling to me. Although it is a good sign that they are properly disciplining bad employee behavior, the number of incidents indicates a problem that is not going away despite discipline. For example, child welfare specialists were disciplined for falsifying investigations, embezzlement, neglect of duty, sleeping on the job and picking up the wrong baby from a day care. There were several incidents in the records that indicated children were endangered by employee misconduct.

I have authored and supported legislation in past years intended to increase the accountability of the agency, but lawmakers continue to be frustrated by the stubborn persistence of a culture at the agency that seems far too tolerant of serious abuses of power and negligence.
I want to also be careful to point out the progress that is being made. Again, while the number of incidents are disturbing, they do show serious action at the agency to hold employees accountable. In several instances, employees are being fired, which means that these same negligent employees are no longer at DHS. We also remain in a period of implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, which means there is a continued effort towards improvement at the agency underway.

At the Oklahoma State Capitol, there are several bills dealing with child welfare that have been filed. One bill would create an independent intermediary for cases in which foster parents have a dispute with the agency or a DHS worker. Obviously, there are DHS employees that do not exemplify the proper behavior that their job requires, so foster parents need to have a way of addressing this lack of professionalism.

Another bill would require the agency to obtain legislative approval prior to the modification of its 11 regional operations. We have had serious problems with the organization of DHS in the past and I believe the bill’s author is likely trying to keep things from returning to a bad state.

A third bill makes changes to the management, operation and use of children’s shelters. Shelter problems are another area of child welfare that we have tried to continually monitor and address.

I am very pleased that child welfare remains a top concern among not only state lawmakers but also the state’s newspapers who have done an excellent job of illuminating the agency’s struggles for the benefit of all Oklahomans.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407.

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