IT can take a while to get things done at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, as we are witnessing with the handling of the death of Serenity Deal.
It has been nearly two months since Serenity's body was found in her father's apartment. Authorities said the 5-year-old suffered significant head trauma, with bruises all over her body. Her death came not long after DHS had placed Serenity with her father, Sean Devon Brooks. Brooks is now charged with first-degree murder.
It has been six weeks since the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth issued its report on Serenity's case. The commission, which monitors DHS, found that case workers had pushed for the girl to live with her father despite two reports of her returning from visits with Brooks with bruises and black eyes. The report also strongly implied that DHS workers from Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties disagreed on how to handle the case.
It was also six weeks ago that a DHS spokeswoman said the agency planned the following week to release a summary of its internal review. That summary has yet to see the light of day.
It has been six weeks since the four child welfare workers who handled Serenity's case were placed on leave. It has been a month since one of them, Wesley Priest, resigned. It's been a little more than two weeks since another one, Donald Wheeler, committed suicide in Chandler. Sources told The Oklahoman that Wheeler, a 30-year veteran of the agency, had fought hard to keep Serenity from being allowed to live with her father.
It has been only a couple of days since Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, called again on the agency to snap to it regarding the internal investigation. Getting that completed “should not be this complicated and time consuming,” Steele said. “The DHS status quo of excuses and delays is not sufficient.”
Amen to that. And Steele's call is more than grandstanding; in the past several years, four children from his part of the state have died after having been under DHS supervision.
Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smotherman is agitated, too. Smotherman says his efforts to investigate potential system failures in this case and get access to attendant paperwork have been held up by the agency.
DHS says its report is coming, but first the agency has to compile all the information it needs to figure out what family members and case workers knew, and when they knew it. Fine. But then why promise a month-and-a-half ago that the report would be out in a week?
Steele and Smotherman are right to be rankled. As to whether their prodding amounts to much, well, they'll have to wait and see.