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Panel Recommends Changes At OK DHS To Prevent Child Abuse

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A new report on child abuse in Oklahoma says fractured families are often the root of the problem, but says the state should do more to help families before abuse starts. A new report on child abuse in Oklahoma says fractured families are often the root of the problem, but says the state should do more to help families before abuse starts.
Dr. Sarah Passmore at the OU College of Medicine has seen unreported abuse escalate. Dr. Sarah Passmore at the OU College of Medicine has seen unreported abuse escalate.
The report makes plenty of recommendations for change at DHS, but notes the best time for prevention is before DHS is even aware of child abuse. The report makes plenty of recommendations for change at DHS, but notes the best time for prevention is before DHS is even aware of child abuse.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

A new report on child abuse in Oklahoma says fractured families are often the root of the problem, but says the state should do more to help families before abuse starts.

Before the state settled a lawsuit that forced some changes at DHS, a review committee started digging through child abuse cases to see what DHS could do better.

The report makes plenty of recommendations for change at DHS, but notes the best time for prevention is before DHS is even aware of child abuse.

Read the full report.

"Many people tend to think that if a child is abused or neglected, DHS is automatically involved, and we're not," said DHS spokesperson Sheree Powell. "Much of the abuse that happens in this state, DHS is not even alerted to the abuse until something horrible happens."

The committee met in the basement of DHS, spending more than 2,000 man-hours looking for common threads in extreme cases of abuse and neglect. They examined reports on 36 children over the last three years.

They found more than half the cases were in homes where single parents have a live-in partner, who is unrelated to the child. Drug abuse and domestic violence often came before the child abuse. Another common finding was that people outside the home saw the signs of abuse, but didn't report it.

Dr. Sarah Passmore at the OU College of Medicine has seen unreported abuse escalate.

"But if someone had just looked out for this child, maybe they could have prevented this child from ending up at the hospital or something like that," Passmore said.

4/4/2013 Related Story: Panel Offers Recommendations Following OK DHS Investigation

The report concludes that children are most at risk in unstable families, and that's where attention needs to be focused, both for prevention and intervention once abuse happens.

"It's really up to parents and communities and families to protect children, and when you start to see a family in crisis, do something about it, don't wait until something bad happens," Powell said.

Passmore said, in her experience, the youngest children are in the greatest danger.

"It's especially important to pay attention to kids under one year of age, because they can't speak for themselves," she said.

DHS has already adopted some of the recommendations, and another oversight panel will be pushing to incorporate more of them into policy for the department.

Read DHS's response.

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