FROM the start, you knew how this story would end. We've all read it too many times before.
It began with a report in The Oklahoman on June 7 about the father of a 5-year-old girl being arrested in connection with her death. The girl, Serenity Anne Deal, had “obvious signs of abuse” when police found her body in her father's apartment June 4.
The father, 31-year-old Sean Devon Brooks, had called 911 to say his daughter was unresponsive. He told police that the night before, he had taken Serenity to his job working the overnight shift at a hotel and that she slept while he worked. The next morning, he said, she took a shower when they got home and he heard a thud, and found her unconscious.
He had no explanation for her injuries — bruises all over her body, including her face, and several wounds to her head, including a gash in the back of her head. Now he sits in jail, charged with first-degree murder.
Subsequently it was reported that Serenity had been placed with Brooks after the girl's mother was jailed for allegedly sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy. The mother, Samantha Ann Deal, entered a blind plea to a charge of forcible sodomy of a child and is to be sentenced next month.
The Department of Human Services was involved in this case, of course, and is (stop us if you've heard this before) under fire for its handling. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth reported that child welfare workers pushed for Brooks — he only learned of the girl last year following a paternity test — to have permanent custody of Serenity, even though the girl sported black eyes and bruises following visits with him.
The report said Serenity lived for a time with her maternal grandparents, who wanted to adopt her, but that she was moved to foster care after it was learned the grandmother was letting Serenity stay with her mother and her boyfriend, a convicted sex offender.
Now four DHS employees — two supervisors, two case workers — are on administrative leave pending an agency investigation. DHS could release a report on that investigation this week. Meantime, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who has backed legislation designed to help keep foster children safe, is questioning the agency's approach: “The outcome of Serenity's case is totally unacceptable.”
Steele's right, it is. But his is only the latest bit of railing against DHS. There have been many others, and plenty of efforts through the years to curb the large number of Oklahoma children abused and neglected. Yet it continues to happen.
If DHS mishandled this case, then those responsible should be held accountable. The shame is that Oklahoma has so many cases just like it every year — so many that the news stories about them have become almost formulaic.