A new face to oversee Oklahoma’s child welfare reforms (Capitol Updates)

Tom Bates
Tom Bates

Governor Fallin has demonstrated her continued support for the Pinnacle Plan by appointing a new special adviser to replace former Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, who is leaving the job to become the administrative director of the courts. Jari traveled the state, learned a lot and, with her longtime dedicated public service and interest in children, no doubt made a valuable contribution to the ongoing implementation of the Pinnacle Plan.

One might ask, since the DHS Director, Ed Lake is now appointed directly by the governor and serves at her pleasure, why does she need a special adviser on the implementation of the Pinnacle Plan? While Ed Lake has line authority over all DHS programs, including the foster care system and the Pinnacle Plan, DHS is a large organization with lots of other social services to needy populations. The importance, scope and investment in the Pinnacle Plan could easily consume all his time and probably does crowd out a lot of his attention to other DHS responsibilities.

It seems to me that someone with a brief from the governor, specific to the Pinnacle Plan, who can collaborate, observe and report can be helpful in bringing an objective point of view to the process and ensuring that implementation stays on track. The governor is wise to get this advice and input. In addition, the state has entered into a binding settlement agreement in federal court to address the shortcomings of our child welfare system in specific ways. As chief executive, the governor needs to stay ahead of events by knowing that we are doing all we can to fulfill the agreement. After all, the legislature and the governor have supported spending millions of dollars to make sure this is done right.

Longtime former Assistant Attorney General Tom Bates is now going to be the governor’s adviser. Originally hired by former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Tom was elevated to First Assistant AG by current Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt after serving successfully in various capacities in the office. It seems clear that the governor wants objective legal analysis of the DHS efforts as well as someone with strong public service leanings, and she has made a good choice.

And it’s still a net gain for Oklahoma’s children that Jari Askins can take with her to the court the inside perspective she gained of the Pinnacle Plan and Oklahoma’s child welfare system. After all, the courts play a decisive role in how well our system can work on behalf of children. Her experience at DHS is a value added for the court system. Hopefully, the court will be able to take advantage of it.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

2 thoughts on “A new face to oversee Oklahoma’s child welfare reforms (Capitol Updates)

  1. Its good to see a dedicated person is appointed to oversee the family court system. Still too many children are removed from situations where social support services and family therapy could be useful and effective, although these do not pull down the federal funding OKDHS has become accustomed to.

  2. My husband and I are foster parents we are under investigation for sexual abuse and neglect. The little girl has been out of our home for over six months. She is upset because we adopted her siblings and could not adopt her. She has other siblings and she thought because I saw them we would go after them to keep us from getting them she is making up a story of sexual abuse. Now our kids are all gone and being put into dhs custody and this is not even right. Who can I get up the chain ladder with and fight this. We are amazing foster parents. This little girl was in our house twice and threatened me on face book that I am going to find out what it feels like to lose everything I have ever loved then now we are under investigation. Please help us

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