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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) began operations as the Department of Public Welfare on August 7, 1936, authorized by Article XXV of the Oklahoma Constitution. According to its constitutional mission, OKDHS has responsibility for "the relief and care of needy aged persons who are unable to provide for themselves, and other needy persons who, on account of immature age, physical infirmity, disability, or other cause, are unable to provide or care for themselves...." A nine-member Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, appointed by the governor, oversees the state's largest agency and appoints the agency's director. The members serve staggered nine-year terms, with one member replaced each August.

The first director and assistant director were, respectively, Havre D. Melton and Grace Browning. Initially, the Department of Public Welfare had four divisions: finance, statistical, child welfare, and public assistance. In fiscal year 1938 the agency served 109,559 recipients and had total expenditures of $15.7 million. By the 1950s the Oklahoma Legislature began adding and transferring programs to the department, making it an umbrella agency for healthcare, children's programs, social services, and vocational rehabilitation programs. In 1951 Lloyd E. Rader was appointed as director to guide the burgeoning institution. In 1968 legislation changed the agency's name to Department of Institutions, Social and Rehabilitative Services.

During the oil bust of the 1980s Oklahoma endured economic hardships of double-digit inflation and high unemployment. Caseloads grew exponentially, but agency employees were furloughed. The 1980 legislation again authorized a name change to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and transferred the funding and administration of University Hospital (Oklahoma Memorial Hospital) to the welfare agency. At that time DHS administered sixteen institutions and more than thirty programs. The state agency became one of the first in the nation to implement the Family Support Act of 1988 federal JOBS program.

The advent of computers played a significant role in helping the department handle increasing caseloads with less staff. In the early 1980s the OKDHS Model County Project paved the way for front-line employees to have access to online case information and policy, known as the Family Assistance/Client Services System (FACS). In 1993 the federal government initiated guidelines for statewide tracking of child welfare cases. Oklahoma had the first federally certified Statewide Automated Child Welfare Case Management System in the nation when it instituted the KIDS system in 1995. By the mid-1990s juvenile, rehabilitation, and medical services programs and the Oklahoma medical center were transferred from the OKDHS and became separate state agencies.

At the turn of the twenty-first century OKDHS had almost eight thousand employees and a budget of $1.4 billion from state and federal funding. The department had offices in all seventy-seven Oklahoma counties. OKDHS served fourteen thousand senior citizens through an ADvantage Waiver program, collected $150 million in owed child support, served seven thousand Oklahomans with developmental disabilities, and helped one-half million individuals receive federal food stamp services. The agency also administered "Reaching for the Stars," one of the nation's premier tiered-reimbursement child care programs, and operated Access Oklahoma, an electronic management system of cash assistance payments, food stamp services, and day-care subsidies.

Douglas D. Doe and George E. Johnson, Jr.


Laura E. Dester, The Halo Girls: The Story of Oklahoma's Child Welfare Division, 1936–1968 ([Oklahoma City, Okla.: Department of Human Services, 1982]).

Margaret R. Janowski, comp., Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow: An Historical Overview of the First 50 Years of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Human Services, [1986]).

Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Directory of Oklahoma: Diamond Jubilee Edition (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 1982).

Cecil E. Walton, "Public Welfare in Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1950).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Douglas D. Doe and George E. Johnson, Jr., “Oklahoma Department of Human Services,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OK099.

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