New Laws Irk DHS Oversight Agency ; the Commission on Children and Youth Wants the Advocate General to Be Free from DHS Influences

By Graham, Ginnie | Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK), July 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

New Laws Irk DHS Oversight Agency ; the Commission on Children and Youth Wants the Advocate General to Be Free from DHS Influences


Graham, Ginnie, Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK)


Read the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth letter to DHS.

OKLAHOMA CITY - A watchdog group over the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is upset about a legislative change eliminating its role in choosing an independent client advocate.

House Bill 2300 was amended late in the session to take away the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth's ability to nominate candidates for the DHS' advocate general.

It also shifted the power to hire the advocate general from the commission to the DHS director.

Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, sponsor of the bill, said the language was to bolster DHS reforms passed in other legislation.

"It was seen as more clean-up language and not seen as adversarial," Peterson said. "The OCCY is a very good partner doing important work, and I look forward to working with them and helping improve outcomes for children. We want there to be oversight and accountability.

"By no means does this discredit that. The only thing this changes is the recommendation of candidates. The bigger picture here is that it didn't change oversight."

The Advocate General was created after the settlement of the 1978 federal lawsuit on abuses and mistreatment of children and juveniles at state institutions.

The person is involved with investigating allegations of abuse, advocating for client services and handling grievances, which involves monitoring provider and agency programs.

Clients are vulnerable adults and children and youth in shelters.

The position is within the Office of Client Advocacy of DHS and has been vacant since last year.

Part of the DHS reforms is a statewide vote Nov. 6 on State Question 765 that would abolish the oversight commission and place the director responsible to the governor.

Citizen advisory groups would make recommendations to the director.

"We've made some inroads, but if the public wants to see significant and ongoing changes, passing (State Question) 765 is crucial to that," Peterson said. "That will be pivotal to long- lasting changes."

Lawmakers said the language was intended to speed along the hiring of the advocate general.

Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said the state constitution gives the DHS director sole power over all personnel, making the current practice of hiring the advocate general "not worth the paper it's written on."

He led the House working groups that pushed for the legislative reforms. …

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