DHS in Lawton takes audit to heart

Lawton_The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) says too many children are taken from their homes in the state - twice as many as the national average.  After viewing the results of the audit, lawmakers say the system has to change.  In an official statement on Oklahoma's government website, House Speaker Chris Benge said:  "We want to say here today that we are very committed as a House to try and get our arms around this issue, and trying to create a better environment for the kids."

In Lawton, the DHS Office Director says the agency already was improving the system prior to the audit, and workers say they are anxious to do better.  There are 25 recommendations from the audit, and those actions aren't going to happen overnight.  However, state representatives and DHS workers say protecting children is the primary concern.

The 197-page audit recommends changes such as increasing in-home services, and more training for employees.  "We have a training academy, but there is always room for improvement," said DHS Director Sandra James.  "There is always room for that, so I think that would be beneficial."

DHS employees say that keeping children in their own homes is their number one priority - but, it sometimes is difficult.  "Sometimes we have to remove a child because we cannot ascertain if the child is safe until we start obtaining more information," said James.

Another recommendation calls for more in-home services to reduce the number of children in the system.  In Comanche County, in-home services already are increasing in the form of preventative services.  "These are services we can provide for the family:  staff going out and working with the family, trying to find what areas that we need to work with the family to strengthen that family, so that they can provide for the safety of their children in their own home," James said.

Sometimes law enforcement must get involved, and officers can legally remove children from the home without the involvement of a child welfare worker.  "Anytime you try to take children away from parents that tends to create some high emotions," said Lawton Police Captain Rusty Wright.  He says he thinks it is a good idea that DHS workers are involved directly in the process.  "They will be able to talk to them more, tell them how their part of the system works as far as once they go into the shelter, and what it is going to take to get them out of the shelters."

If you are a parent who is struggling to keep your children clothed and fed, or feel you need any sort of help to keep them safe, DHS does not have to get involved.  James says you can ask your neighborhood schools, churches, or counselors for assistance.  If you would like to know what help the Lawton area has to offer, call 211.