An oversight agency on Wednesday reported another instance of a young girl dying of abuse after DHS decided not to take her away from her drug-using mother.
“I'm saying, there's a lot more that could have been done here,” said Lisa Smith, director of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.
Smith said the latest death spotlights the urgent need for the state of Oklahoma to re-evaluate how it deals with the issue of substance abuse by parents and the safety of children.
The Department of Human Services has come under intense scrutiny this year because of child deaths, allegations of open meeting violations and complaints about its governing commissioners.
Ahonesty Hicks died of a brain injury May 3, a day after she was abused in an Oklahoma City apartment, police reported. She was 17 months old.
Police reported her mother's boyfriend confessed to pushing Ahonesty, shaking her violently and sitting her down hard on the floor.
The boyfriend, Deandre R. Wells, 21, is charged with first-degree murder and child neglect. He said he was frustrated with Ahonesty for getting in his way while he was giving his newborn son a bath, police reported. Ahonesty's mother, Tiffany D. Hicks, 21, was at work at a fast-food restaurant at the time.
Wells was on probation for a drug offense and already had an older child in DHS custody, according to DHS records obtained independently by The Oklahoman.
About the case
The oversight agency reported DHS first got involved with Ahonesty when the mother gave birth March 15 to a boy. Both the mother and boy tested positive for PCP — an illegal drug.
The mother claimed to have unknowingly smoked cigarettes laced with PCP, the oversight agency reported.
DHS records show she would not identify who gave her the cigarettes. “She said she didn't need any trouble with her,” those records show. She said her problem was “being around the wrong people.”
She also said she would be living with her own mother until she found suitable housing for herself and the children.
DHS workers decided not to have the baby — or Ahonesty — picked up.
The oversight agency reported DHS became involved again when the mother and boyfriend had a domestic dispute inside a moving car March 29. Ahonesty and the baby boy were in the back.
DHS records show the mother claimed she was driving, and Wells became enraged and kicked the car out of gear. She told DHS workers she was trying to get the children out when Wells climbed into the driver's seat and sped off, nearly hitting her and taking the children with him.
She said he wrecked the car after leaving, and she eventually found the children at his sister's house.
Wells told police he was upset because he caught the mother smoking PCP in the car.
The oversight agency reported the mother was told she needed to protect both children from Wells. The oversight agency also reported the mother acknowledged that she “had no room for error” and she reported that she would do what she needed to do to keep the children safe.
Tiffany Hicks also told workers her mother would get guardianship over the children, records show. Tiffany Hicks' mother on March 30 signed a DHS safety plan promising to keep the children.
Instead, Tiffany Hicks and her children ended up living with Wells in an apartment, police reported.
“In Ahonesty's case, there were two separate times within a two-week time frame that the system could have responded more aggressively to ensure Ahonesty's and her sibling's safety,” said Smith, the director of the Commission on Children and Youth. “Assessing risk and safety is critical — critical — in matters such as these.”
A DHS spokeswoman, Sheree Powell, responded: “There was a plan in place to ensure the safety of both Ahonesty and her sibling. The safety plan involved the maternal grandmother where the mother and the children were to be residing. The worker documented visits to the grandmother's home on March 30, April 14 and April 20. Both children were observed to be safe and doing well. Another attempt was made to visit the home on April 27, but no one was home.”
The DHS spokeswoman also said that when relatives are willing to and capable of ensuring a child's safety, “that factors into the decision about whether to set up a safety plan or to recommend removal of the child.”
Tiffany Hicks returned home from work May 3 and found Ahonesty sluggish and cold, according to the report by the Commission on Children and Youth. Wells informed her Ahonesty had been throwing up.
She called a relative to take her and Ahonesty to a hospital emergency room then dressed Ahonesty and fixed the girl's hair, according to the report.
The relative came over several hours later and immediately called 911. Ahonesty died that night.
The newborn boy was placed into DHS custody after Ahonesty was injured.
Reportedly, the mother did not understand why, the oversight agency noted.