Key Provisions of the Settlement Agreement
The Settlement Agreement provides that the DHS will develop a plan that will identify specific strategies to improve the child welfare system in a number of key areas (see below). The plan will also identify specific structural and/or organizational changes necessary to implement the strategies and the anticipated cost of implementation. Key performance areas that will be addressed include:
- child abuse and neglect in care;
- the number of foster homes available for children in need of therapeutic care,
- the number of foster homes available for children not in need of therapeutic care;
- visitation of children by case workers;
- continuity of visitation by the same case worker;
- on an annual basis, the average number of placements experienced by a child two years old or older, excluding the ten percent of children with the least number of changes in placement and the ten percent of children with the highest number of changes in placement;
- the actual number of placements for each child two years old or older that is in the ten percent of children two years old or older with the highest number of changes in placements;
- on an annual basis, the average number of placements experienced by a child under two years old, excluding the ten percent of children with the least number of placements and the ten percent of children with the highest number of placements;
- the actual number of placements for each child under two years old who is in the ten percent of children under two years old with the highest number of placements;
- as of March 31 and September 30 of each year, the number of children in shelters delineated by even ages (i.e., younger than 2 years, 2 years old to 4 years old, 4 years old to 6 years old, ... );
- during the same six month time period (April through September and October through March), the average stay in a shelter for each age group identified in subparagraph (10), excluding the ten percent of children with the shortest stay in a shelter and the ten percent of children with the longest stay in a shelter,
- the actual length of stay for each child that is in the ten percent of children with the longest stay in a shelter;
- permanency (i.e., the child exits the system with a connection to a permanent family);
- adoption, including adoption failure rates; and
The plan will be created by a team consisting of DHS staff, members of the Commission, representatives of the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature. The settlement provides that three national experts, termed as “Co-Neutrals”, will be included in the approval and monitoring of the plan (Kathleen Noonan, Kevin Ryan, and Eileen Crummy whose bios are attached). A draft of the plan will be submitted by March 30, 2012 to the Co-Neutrals. They will act as arbiters of any disputes between the parties to and arising out of the Settlement Agreement. The expense of the Co-Neutrals will be paid by the DHS.
The DHS and Co-Neutrals will identify a national data expert who will establish baseline measures and target outcomes for each of the performance areas.
In the event that plan is not acceptable to the Co-Neutrals, the DHS will have additional time to modify the plan and resubmit for approval. If the revised plan remains unacceptable, the Co-Neutrals will have the option of designating a third party to modify the plan or to craft a plan themselves.
If the DHS believes that its plan cannot be implemented without an additional appropriation of funds, it agrees to request such funds from the Legislature. However, the settlement agreement does not require the Legislature to increase funding to the DHS.
Once there is a plan (either the first or second version created by DHS, or the one developed by the Co-Neutrals), the DHS shall proceed to implement the plan and make regular reports to the Co-Neutrals on the Department’s progress toward achieving the target outcomes. Twice annually, the Co-Neutrals will provide commentary regarding whether the DHS is making good faith efforts to achieve progress towards each target outcome.
By Oct. 15, 2014, Co-Neutrals shall issue written findings identifying: those target outcomes that have been met; those for which the Department has achieved sustained, positive trending; and those target outcomes for which the Department has not achieved sustained, positive trending (collectively referred to as the "Target Outcome Findings"). The Co-Neutrals will issue a second Target Outcomes Findings report by Oct. 15, 2015.
On Dec. 15, 2016, the Co-Neutrals shall issue a final report. The final report, in addition to the information contained in the Target Outcome Findings referenced above, shall include a finding that the Department has, or has not, made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward each target outcome. If the Co-Neutrals find that the Department has made, for a continuous period of at least two years prior to Dec. 15, 2016, good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward each target outcome, then the Department's obligations under this Settlement Agreement shall terminate and the parties shall jointly seek to vacate any Judgment entered by the Court as a result of a finding or decision by the Co-Neutrals. If the Co-Neutrals find that the Department has not made good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward each target outcome, the Department shall continue to be subject to the terms of this Settlement Agreement for successive one year periods, with a continuation of the identified reporting requirements. At the end of each such period, the Co-Neutrals shall issue additional Target Outcome Findings until such time as the Co-Neutrals find that the Department has made, for a continuous period of at least two years prior to the report, good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress toward each target outcome.
The DHS has agreed that Children’s Rights, which acted as Counsel for Plaintiffs, is entitled to legal fees and expenses. The agreement provides that the District Court will determine the amount. Fred Dorwart, a Tulsa attorney who has represented Children’s Rights, has agreed to waive any claim for fees he has incurred.
U.S. District Court Judge Greg Frizzell must approve the Settlement Agreement in order for it to be binding. This settlement is not considered a Consent Decree.