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Are confidentiality laws protecting or endangering children?

How could 78 Oklahoma children in Department of Human Services custody be missing — many of them for months — and the general public not know anything about it?
by Randy Ellis Modified: August 10, 2013 at 2:36 am •  Published: August 11, 2013
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How could 78 Oklahoma children in state Department of Human Services custody be missing — many of them for months — and the general public not know anything about it?


The answer lies in confidentiality laws and policies covering juveniles and children in DHS custody, according to DHS and police officials.

The Oklahoman requested the names and photos of missing children in state custody so it could enlist the public's help in finding them.

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said confidentiality laws prohibit officials from providing that information.

Likewise, Oklahoma City police Capt. Dexter Nelson said police officials generally are prohibited from releasing missing persons reports and other information regarding children who run away from DHS custody.

There are limited exceptions.

Powell and Nelson both said that if a missing child is believed to be in imminent danger, whether it be from a kidnapping, medical condition or some other factor, police and DHS officials will work together to put out an Amber Alert in which the name and photo of the child will be widely distributed through the news media.

Such alerts are rare, however.

In most cases, it's up to child welfare workers and law enforcement officers to try to locate the children.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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