A new push is underway to protect Oklahoma's children. State lawmakers are proposing what they call strong reforms to prevent child abuse.
News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin explains what this will mean for kids at risk. It's called the Kelsey Briggs Child Protection Act, named for a 2-year old Meeker girl whose step-father is facing murder charges after doctors say she died from a blow to the stomach.
Protecting kids from abuse is a timely issue in Tulsa as well. Tuesday night, a Tulsa County court jury sent a father to prison for life for killing his son. The jury handed Carlis Ball the maximum penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole. This after finding him guilty of deliberately pouring boiling water over the head of his two-year old son, severely burning more than half his body, then delaying medical attention until it was too late to save the boy's life.
Now, another dead 2-year old is in the news, authorities suspect she too was the victim of abuse. State representative Kris Steele of Shawnee: â€œThe grandmother of Kelsey, Cathy Briggs actually sent out a mass email to every legislator that she felt like her granddaughter was being abused and DHS and various agencies involved were not responding appropriately." Steele says despite he and others personally drawing attention to Kelsey's case, she was not removed from the home and died.
Steele says the new child protection act will hold judges more accountable for their rulings, give more training to children's case workers and give DHS more authority to work in a child's best interest.
National child advocates reccommend each social worker handle no more than 11 to 12 cases on average, but in Oklahoma most workers have about 20 and in Tulsa the number of suspected abuse cases each worker handles between 25 and 30.
Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials say they need help. They want to add more than a hundred additional case workers and the $4-million it will take to pay their salaries. Officials say it's â€œto try to reduce the stress on an an already overburdened system."
It's a system Keenan Taylor's family says failed to protect him, a feeling supporters of the new law don't want any parent to have. Kris Steele: â€œIn Oklahoma last year we had 52 children that died as a result of child abuse or neglect and we feel that's 52 too many."
The Kelsey Briggs Child Protection Act is currently being discussed in a state House committee.
The last major change to Oklahoma's Child Welfare Laws was in 1997. The Ryan Luke Law, named for another vicitm of fatal child abuse, reorganized DHS priorities, ordering case workers to respond within 24 hours on reports involving children under age three.
That law also allowed DHS to continue monitoring families even after a court case is settled. State lawmakers say clearly, more needs to be done.