NORMAN — The Special Review Committee studying child abuse and neglect deaths of Oklahoma children released its report today which includes both praise and criticism regarding the performance of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and many other entities responsible for the protection of children, and also disputes previous claims made by legislators against OKDHS.
In a 38-page report containing 50 findings and 37 recommendations which took 16 months to develop, the committee found there were many individuals, agencies and situations which were both “part of the problems and part of the solutions.”
“While our task was to review the work of DHS in the role of child abuse and neglect deaths, our committee soon discovered that while DHS had some responsibility, the conditions leading to the children’s deaths were the results of multiple omissions and commissions by any number of many groups, agencies, individuals, conditions, and factors,” said Wes Lane, chair of the 21-member, blue ribbon committee.
The Special Review Committee, originally a subcommittee of the now-dissolved Human Services Commission, was created in late 2011 by then Commissioner and former Oklahoma County District Attorney Lane. Its purpose was to review OKDHS’s role in child abuse and neglect deaths where the agency had some previous child welfare connection with the family.
The committee spent more than a year conducting a broad review of 135 child deaths which occurred between 2010 and 2012. The committee then conducted an in-depth review of 36 of those cases where the child died from either abuse or neglect and the family had some level of child welfare involvement in the 12 months preceding their deaths. Only one of the child death cases reviewed was of a child actually in state custody at the time.
“We observed instances where other agencies were involved in the complexities of cases, times when the public did not report abuse, and other situations where law enforcement or the judicial system, or others in the community bore some of the responsibility for a child’s death,” Lane said.