Bill Would Require Oklahoma DHS To Conduct Deeper Background Checks

Friday, March 25th 2011, 9:05 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's another series of mandates proposed for Oklahoma's embattled child welfare system. Some lawmakers want DHS to perform deeper background checks before reuniting children with their parents.

Kidnapped and brutalized by her stepfather, Aja Johnson's tragic death not only sparked outrage, but has now inspired a lawmaker.

Speaker Kris Steele proposed House Bill 2136, which calls for more vigorous background checks into parents seeking to regain custody of their children.  Steele says a background check would have revealed Aja's step-father, Lester Hobbs', violent past.

"Aja was loved by a lot of people," JJ Johnson, Aja's father, said. "She touched a lot of people's heart during her short time here on Earth. She touched a lot of people."

4/2/2010 Related Story: Funeral Service Set For Aja Johnson

Steele says currently DHS does not require a background check before foster children are returned to their parents. House Bill 2136 would require not only a review of state OSBI records, but also national FBI records.

"No, it's not even a good start," Larry Henry, a attorney, said.

Larry Henry has worked in the background screening industry for three decades.

"They're misled by movies and television," he said. "They believe the FBI national database has everything in it. And it does not. It's very hit or miss like every national database."

Henry says FBI records document arrests but not necessarily convictions. And he says agencies should check the county where parents live or have lived, rather than relying on the feds.

"It's never complete, but it's better than never looking," he said. "But it's kind of the last piece of the puzzle that you have is a national database."

DHS says it already checks the Child Abuse and Neglect Information system, its own records, and pertinent police reports.

It's not clear if more background checks would have saved Aja Johnson. After all, her biological father had custody of her, not Lester Hobbs, when she was kidnapped and killed.

DHS says it would cost about $450,000 to do the background checks required by the proposed legislation.