Report: Oklahoma's Welfare System Failed Several Children

Thursday, March 17th 2011, 5:38 pm
By: News On 6

Lacie Lowry, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A new report released Thursday by a children's advocacy group blames Oklahoma's welfare system for the deaths of several children who were in state custody.

The group Children's Rights says the independent study says half those deaths could have been prevented. Children's Rights is suing Oklahoma's child welfare system in federal court.

This latest report looks at the nine children who died between 2007 and 2009 as a result of abuse or neglect.

Read Children's Rights Report

The review was conducted by a veteran case worker in conjunction with the Juvenile Protection Association. It states the nine children were living in homes that DHS had received at least one prior abuse or neglect allegation.

In the case of a boy named DS, the review states DHS received referrals that he was the victim of three separate, serious injuries by his parents. The injuries ranged from head trauma to genital bruising.

The boy became a ward of the state, but DHS later returned him to his parents. Five weeks after he returned home, DS died from massive injuries due to blunt force trauma.

The report says "no amount of anger management services, parenting classes, and family counseling would have made it safe to return a 5-year-old to a caregiver who hurt him."

The report also examines an 18-month-old baby boy named RP. DHS took the boy from his parents and placed him in a foster home with several other children.

The report claims DHS screened out an allegation that RP and six other children were left alone in the foster home with no adult supervision. Nine days later, RP was hit and killed by a truck near the foster home while his foster father was drinking on another part of the property.

The findings state "the foster home was unreasonably overcrowded" and the earlier neglect allegation wasn't properly investigated.

The report finally examines two similar cases involving a 2-year-old girl named SW and a 3-year-old boy named JT. Although two separate tragedies that happened nine months apart, both children drowned in their foster family's pools, which lacked safety fences.

In SW's death, the authors say DHS had repeated documentation of the pool's hazard. JT's foster home had documentation of an unfenced pool, but was approved because a pool alarm was installed.

The report says the deaths were preventable, "had DHS simply followed its own policy - and common sense - it would have taken action." DHS responded to today's report, saying they have made tremendous improvements to the system the last four years.

A spokesperson says the group Children's Rights sues numerous states on these same grounds and their motivation is not children, but the hundreds of millions of dollars the group stands to win with each federal lawsuit.

Read Oklahoma DHS Response

The case goes to court in October.