NORMAN — State Question 765, if approved by voters, will allow for radical reform of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Nothing makes a legislator cringe more than headlines of a child who has died or been mistreated while on the state’s watch. OKDHS has been under fire since the death of 2-year-old Kelsey Smith-Briggs on Oct. 11, 2005. In the months before her death, DHS received multiple reports of suspected abuse with injuries, including a broken collar bone and two broken legs. She died shortly after being returned to her mother at the urging of those who were charged with her protection.
A class action lawsuit styled as D.G. vs. Yarbrough was filed in February 2008 on behalf of nine children by attorneys hired by nonprofit Children’s Rights Inc. That lawsuit brought DHS deficiencies into the headlines over the course of the next four years. Investigations into DHS Child Protective Services resulting from that lawsuit sent shockwaves through the state.
Next, the death of 5-year-old Serenity Deal on Sept. 15, 2011, exposed apparent inadequacies in the child protective system. Deal was removed from foster care and placed in the custody of her father, who later pleaded guilty to murdering her.
Oklahoma legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin rose to the challenge, bringing to the vote of the people a ballot question that, if approved, will allow the state to radically restructure the Department of Human Services.
Linda Terrell, former director of Norman-based Center for Children and Families Inc. and current executive director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said this is a change that’s time has come.
“We have a voice to vote and we have a voice that we can use with our elected officials. Our children depend on us to do that,” Terrell said. “Our voices collectively have got to get loud.”