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What DHS knew ... but didn't act on

April 15, 2007 permalink

When a homosexual foster couple turned their home into a pedophile paradise, Oklahoma DHS knew of the problem but failed to take action until receiving a complaint.



What DHS knew ... but didn't act on until a foster child reported sexual abuse

Paul Hull
Former foster parent Paul Stephen Hull walks to court Tuesday in Norman to plead guilty to sex and drug crimes.

This is one in a continuing series of reports by The Oklahoman concerning the state Department of Human Services. The agency has more than 7,500 employees and manages a $1.6 billion budget. It is responsible for caring for children, the elderly and underprivileged.

Because of state privacy laws, many of the agency's records are confidential. The Oklahoman has asked for those records — some of which would show whether employees are convicted criminals — and has been denied access.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you have a DHS issue you would like to share, email us at

Foster children
Almost 10,000 children are in foster care in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services reported having 8,345 children in normal foster care homes last month.

Another 1,064 children with special medical, psychological or emotional needs were in therapeutic foster care homes.

DHS says it pays a normal foster parent $12.17 a day for a child under 6, $14.33 a day for a child 6 to 12, and $16.61 a day for a child 13 or older.

The state says it pays $70.51 a day for a child needing therapeutic foster care. Those payments for therapeutic care are shared by the foster parents and the agencies that recruit and train foster parents and provide clinical services to the children.

By Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis, Staff Writers

A secret report shows state Department of Human Services workers knew about serious problems at an Oklahoma City foster home where four boys were staying, but didn't shut it down until one boy revealed he had been sexually abused there.

The foster father, Paul Stephen Hull, last week pleaded guilty to joining a live-in male lover in sexually assaulting one of the foster sons — multiple times.

The rape victim said the two men called him and boys his age their "candy.”

Hull — a longtime teacher — was so highly regarded by Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials that they paid him to keep more than the normal limit of special-needs foster children in his home, The Oklahoman has learned.

The case is raising questions about whether the state agency responsible for the care of troubled and deprived children scrutinizes its foster parents enough.

"I'm still trying to figure out why he was given foster children,” said one Oklahoma City police detective who investigated the foster parent.

Hull — who counts Hitler among his heroes — retired as an English teacher at Capitol Hill High School after he was charged.

Hull, 55, pleaded guilty to attempted rape, forcible sodomy, second-degree rape, lewd molestation and drug crimes over his 2006 sexual abuse of the boy.

He agreed to spend eight years in prison and to testify against his former lover, a child killer who faces trial in June for also allegedly raping and molesting the foster boy. Hull remains free until after the trial.

The friend, Erwin Charles Swender, 41, spent time in an Iowa juvenile center for beating a 22-month-old boy to death in 1981 and lost parental rights to seven of his own children, records show.

He already is on probation for drug possession.

He has denied to police that he sexually assaulted any of Hull's foster children.

The foster boy told investigators the two men took turns sexually assaulting him last year in the foster father's bed and in the shower.

He was then 15.

The victim has demanded $175,000 from the state, saying child-welfare workers placed and left him "in the foster home setting that they knew was fraught with peril.”

The victim's court-appointed attorney, D. Letitia Ness, complained specifically that DHS workers should have removed the boys after discovering "an unknown adult male” had moved in.

Policy questioned

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he realizes DHS officials cannot discriminate against gays but should review their policies.

"It's a concern to me,” he said. "Hopefully, they've taken a fresh look at it to make sure something like that doesn't happen again.”

The prosecutor said social workers certainly should investigate if a foster parent keeps requesting only males of a certain age.

A few states have tried to ban gays from being foster parents. The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a ban in that state last year.

"We do not generate policies that make distinctions other than does the person or company have the ability to fulfill the service that needs to be delivered,” DHS spokesman George Johnson said. "Being single or gay is not a part of such distinctions.”

Foster care officials say Hull underwent vigorous background checks, including from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and FBI.

Officials say workers would not have checked into Swender's background unless he had lived there two weeks and workers were informed of the living arrangement.

Hull had been a foster father for 10 years and was paid extra taxpayer dollars to provide therapeutic care for children with special needs. He got special permission to have more children at a time than most foster parents, officials said.

Normally, a therapeutic foster parent can only have two children in the home.

"This former foster parent was employed with the school system and certified as a foster parent for many years with no criminal behavior reported,” said an executive for Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System, which is paid by DHS to find foster parents and to provide children with psychological services.

"We are devastated and outraged that an individual entrusted to help children would be capable of betraying those same children, their families, the mission of our program and the trust of the entire community,” said Shadow Mountain's chief operating officer, Elicia Bunch.

DHS attorneys declined to discuss the case.

Hull cared for at least 14 boys over the years, records show. Some have come forward since last year with stories of exposure to adult sexuality and pornography. One recounted that Hull made him "take a bath with a scrub brush and then ... would check him from head to toe to see if he had red all over his body,” records show.

The Oklahoman discovered this case during an ongoing look at DHS, which increasingly has faced criticism in the last two years, primarily because of high-profile deaths of children under its care.

The Oklahoman reviewed police reports, court records, foster parent requirements and a 41-page confidential report on the DHS investigation of Hull.

Teen says he was abused

According to the confidential report:

  • The boy said he was abused for two weeks before he told a therapist. He said he was exposed to crystal meth, sex toys and gay pornography, and once was handcuffed. He said some of the acts were recorded on his foster father's computer. He said Hull's friend assaulted him first and his foster father got involved after the third or fourth time. He said the first time Hull joined them was the only night all three participated at the same time. He said he participated out of fear "because he knew that there were guns in the house.” He said he decided to tell his therapist "when more and more things started to happen.”
  • He was removed from Hull's home Feb. 13, 2006, after he reported being sexually abused.
  • A state social worker had been to Hull's home 10 days earlier, on Feb. 3, 2006, and found problems there. The social worker was investigating then because another foster boy had been suspended from school for snorting the contents of a pill.
  • The worker found a foster child at the house alone with Hull's friend, which was not allowed. The worker reported the man — now known to be Swender — would not give his full name and that Hull later lied about the man.
  • The worker also found the four boys at the home had unrestricted access to prescription medicine and dangerous tools such as saws, hammers and an ax. The boy who had been suspended from school had threatened the others with the ax and knives. That boy also had told a teacher about seeing sex toys at the home.
  • The social worker and a Shadow Mountain official met with Hull that night and warned him not to have his friend in the home. The foster children were removed for the weekend.
  • The victim was returned to the house after a few days. He later said his foster father's friend was in the house "the entire time that he had been back and that Steve wadded up the safety plan that stated Erwin was not to be in the home or around the kids and threw it in the trash.”
  • State workers left the victim at the home even after they began to suspect on Feb. 6, 2006, that Hull's friend was Swender. The workers knew then that Swender had been institutionalized as a teenager for killing a child and that Swender was in the process of losing his parental rights to seven of his own children.

According to news accounts, Swender was in an Iowa juvenile center until he was 18, after he admitted he struck a 22-month-old boy three to four times. He was visiting the boy's baby sitter in 1981 and became angry when the boy soiled a diaper.

Hull's defense attorney said Hull was a kind, excellent foster father for many years but "lost his moral compass” after befriending Swender.

Hull met Swender on the Internet but did not know about Swender's past, the defense attorney, John Coyle, said.

Swender, who is in the Cleveland County jail, continues to deny wrongdoing.

He asked a judge in February for a media blackout in his case, writing, "I have school-age children that do not need the ridicule or embarrassment for something that their father didn't even do.”

Hull was to have gone on trial Monday.

A prosecutor said she was ready to put on testimony that Hull asked his son-in-law to kill the victim. Hull denies that, she said.

Hull identified Hitler as his hero on, a popular Web site for youths.

"Why not?” Hull wrote. "He rose from being a crappy artist to the top dawg of Germany.”

Source: the Oklahoman