An Arkansas woman says 22 desperate telephone calls to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services failed to persuade anyone to come to the aid of her 15-year-old Oklahoma special needs brother, whom she believes was suffering from neglect.
Her brother, Quinten Wood, is now dead.
Valerie Wood-Harber wants Gov. Mary Fallin to see that a similar situation never happens again in this state.
Wood-Harber, 28, of Fayetteville, Ark., showed up at Gov. Fallin's office Tuesday to deliver the results of an online petition drive that gathered more than 460,000 electronic signatures from throughout the nation.
The petition expresses “outrage at the dysfunction” of Oklahoma's child welfare system and calls for a “full criminal prosecution of Quinten Wood's neglector(s), as well as the full censure of the state agencies, public schools, and teachers that sat by and let this defenseless child die.”
Wood-Harber says Quinten had a rare chromosomal disorder that rendered him unable to care for his own most basic needs.
Quinten lived with his father and a younger brother, Cameron, in a home along the border of Oklahoma City and Midwest City, she said. The teenager attended Midwest City High School.
Wood-Harber said she became alarmed in late 2012 after Cameron, who was a year younger than Quinten, told her that their father had repeatedly left him alone as the caregiver for Quinten for the past two years.
“Cameron was being left alone to take care of Quinten,” Wood-Harber said. “He was responsible for all of his daily care. He would get up with him in the morning and get him ready for school. He was responsible for … bathing him, diapering him, feeding him, cooking dinner, everything.”
Being an adult, Wood-Harber said it was obvious to her that was too much to expect of a 13- or 14-year-old child.
“He told me that he wanted to kill himself,” Wood-Harber said.
Wood-Harber says she got on the telephone and called DHS.
“I called DHS 22 times in between the dates of Dec. 17, 2012, and Jan. 3, 2013,” she said.
She said DHS sent a worker to talk to Cameron at school and to attempt to talk to Quinten, but the worker failed to follow up. She said her other telephone calls apparently elicited no response, even though she repeatedly asked to speak with supervisors in an attempt to go up the chain of command.
“My reports of neglect went uninvestigated by DHS. They went unreported by his public school that he attended. I was told that I needed to mind my own business, that he was fine, when he was dying,” she said.
Wood-Harber said Quinten went from a happy child to being a miserable child who was withering away “and nobody would help him.”
Quinten's father, Michael Wood, could not be located for comment Tuesday. He told CNN in a report published last October that as a single, working dad, he needed help caring for his disabled son and went to DHS three times, starting in 2010, to request aid.
“They bounced me to another department, and they said, ‘Well, somebody will come out.' And nobody ever came out,” Wood told CNN. “I finally said, ‘Forget it, I'll do it on my own.'”
Whether neglect actually contributed to Quinten's death has not yet been officially determined.
Quinten died Jan. 4, 2013, from acute pneumonia with Ring 9 chromosome disease a contributing factor, according to the Oklahoma medical examiner's office.
He died from natural causes, according to the report.
The death continues to be investigated by the Oklahoma City Police Department, said police Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow.
DHS officials are close to concluding their own investigation, said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell.
“This has been one of the most heart-wrenching cases we have seen in a long time,” Powell said. “We have been investigating this since Quinten's death, internally, to see what actions were taken or were not taken and what should have been done.”
“We will have a much more detailed response once the investigation is complete,” Powell said. “We don't want to interfere with anything on the criminal side. We do expect the investigations to be completed here very soon, and then we will have a much more detailed response about what actions have been taken or will be taken in response to that.”
Powell declined to confirm whether Wood-Harber made 22 calls to the agency or to say whether any employee already has been disciplined.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Fallin, expressed sympathy to Quinten's family.
“I think Quinten deserved better. His family deserved better,” Weintz said.
Weintz said the governor is awaiting the DHS report.
“Certainly, we want to know what went wrong,” he said. “Is there something the state could have done better? Is it a personnel issue? Is it policy? Basically, what can we do to make sure … that this never happens again?”