Residents rally for change in Oklahoma's welfare law
Sunday, January 15th 2006, 1:01 pm
By: News On 6
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Kelsey Smith-Briggs was everywhere at the state Capitol's south plaza_ her face smiling from stickers and signs, her name on everyone's lips.
``Tonight is the one-year anniversary of the first night we noticed abuse on Kelsey's body, the first night we documented abuse,'' said Kelsey's paternal grandmother, Kathie Briggs, on Saturday. ``We are just trying to bring awareness out and keep the story out there.''
Kelsey, 2, of Meeker died of blunt force trauma Oct. 11, four months after a judge returned her to her mother's care despite allegations of abuse. Her death has been ruled a homicide.
Kelsey's stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in her death. Her mother, Raye Dawn Porter, 26, is under investigation.
Saturday, about 150 people rallied outside the Capitol to advocate child welfare reform. With a statewide burn ban in effect, they held flashlights as they held vigil. Many wore T-shirts bearing images of the slain girl's face and the words: ``Justice for Kelsey Briggs.''
``It helps when you see the amount of people who show up and the people who come from all over to try to make changes,'' said Teri Sigman, Kelsey's step-grandmother. ``A lot of these are people who never even knew her.''
Roxanne Loyd, 50, of Choctaw was among those who'd never heard of Kelsey until her death. She said she was drawn to the rally by her own experiences.
``I just adopted a child who would've ended up just like Kelsey if I hadn't fought and had money to back me,'' Loyd said. ``I fought the system for 3 1/2 years. ... There definitely need to be changes.''
State Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is pushing child welfare reform legislation aimed, in part, at restructuring and reorganizing the state Department of Human Services.
``We're looking at some pretty significant changes to how we do child protection in our state,'' said Steele, who drew applause when he said that if the legislation passes, it will be renamed the Kelsey Briggs Law.
He said his reform package will enable DHS to appeal judges' decisions, force judges to fill out forms explaining their decisions in child welfare cases and make those forms available to the public, require caseworkers who deal with abused children to be properly educated and involve the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations in certain abuse cases.