DHS starts new program to speed up adoption process

OKLAHOMA CITY - There are thousands of children in DHS custody who are waiting for a family, but state officials are working to make the process of finding a permanent home faster for those children.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is starting a new unit they said will help speed up the adoption process, but not everyone is on board with it.

One mom just adopted a teenager from DHS with another adoption less than a month away.

She said it was a fairly easy process that happened in a matter of four months.

"Really, our main thing was finding children. As far as the legal part, it went really smoothly once we met with the judge and chose a date,” said Barb Yeary, new adoptive mother.

That's because her son was a considered legally free.

Parental rights were terminated, and a family already wanted to adopt him.

There are more than a 1,000 children in Oklahoma with the same situation, and DHS is hoping to make it an even faster process for those children with free legal counsel.

"What we're hoping for is that these attorneys will be specifically trained and educated and experienced enough to know when something looks like it's going to be a problem taking care of it," said Ronald Baze, general counsel for DHS.

Scott Raybern is the first lawyer in the new unit.

He's a former social worker who has been in the industry for years and was hired by DHS in July.

"It would probably be helpful to these children if we could facilitate these adoptions, if we could help them do them ourselves,” Raybern said.

DHS already gives a $1,200 stipend to attorneys working on an adoption case.

Under the new Legal Services Adoption Unit, it would go back to the state.

Yeary used a private attorney to adopt.

She said, even with the new option available, she would do it the same way.

"We probably would have done that, because we had personal recommendations. Had we just gone in blindly, we probably would have just used DHS's attorney," Yeary said.

Yeary said she just wants to make sure foster and adoptive families have the choice to use whatever attorney they want, which DHS said is the case.

"We don't see much of an impact from anyone other than positive to make sure that these kids get out of foster care,” Baze said.

However, some attorneys said they worry about the legal concerns with in-house counsels.

Linque Gillett, with the Linque Hilton Gillett Law Office, said he is concerned about the validity of those adoptions.

"I have strong concerns about challenges to these adoptions. There is a conflict of interest that cannot be waived by the adoptive parent. DHS is the custodian of the child and has a significant role in removing the child from the biological parents as well as recommending and participating in the termination of parental rights and then later DHS finalized the adoption and gets payment for doing so," he said in a statement. "Myself and most attorneys who finalize DHS adoptions regularly are not the reason for delays, and this cannot be cured by hiring in-house counsel to finalize the adoptions."

CASA of Oklahoma County is also speaking out about the new program.

"We too just heard of the Department’s new initiative to expedite adoptions. Adoptions do require a great deal of work and navigation on the part of the prospective adoptive families, whether it  is completion of all the home study components, inclusive of background checks, medical checks, etc. to finding the right attorney. We are lucky in Oklahoma County to have a number of attorneys who specialize in this area, who, by statute, have access to the necessary case information and already assist our families in this process. However, the rural areas may not be as fortunate. CASAofOKCO supports any thoughtful initiative that would help remove barriers to moving to our children into a safe, loving, and permanent home in a timely manner; however, we also want to be cautious that the new procedure does not create future obstacles we simply haven’t considered today. One issue that comes to mind is families in need of adoption subsidies that the Department often approves for familiesWe don’t want this to create possible future conflicts," the organization said in a statement.