Day cares must post problems by their front doors and dangerous day cares will be closed more swiftly under reforms approved Tuesday. Policymakers at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services made many of the changes Tuesday because of the death of a 2-year-old boy whose mouth was taped over at a Tulsa day care in May. "We have to try to find: How can we keep kids safe? It's our primary goal,” DHS Director Howard Hendrick said. "At the same time, we don't want to wrongly deny somebody the ability to do business just because somebody made some allegations not substantiated or ... that's frivolous or marginal. ... It's a very difficult balance.” The new rules do not go into effect unless they are approved by Gov. Brad Henry. The governor "supports the intent” of the changes but will review them before making a decision, a spokesman said. If approved, most of the rules would go into effect Oct. 1. They would affect more than 5,500 licensed facilities. Some day care owners objected to changes that require them to post notices if abuse or neglect is confirmed. "It is a knee-jerk reaction to the bad press that they have gotten ... and it is not going to do anything to solve the problem,” said Rick Kerr, who owns five day cares in Lawton and one in Cache. DHS has been widely criticized for not moving more quickly to close a Tulsa day care after its owner, Vicki Chiles, admitted spanking an 8-year-old boy April 10 with a flyswatter. Parents of children at the day care also were not told she was being investigated. DHS workers went to her day care May 17, after Chiles was charged with child abuse, to ask her to close. They found her trying to revive Joshua Minton, 2. The boy died later that day, and police say Chiles admitted she put masking tape over his mouth and bound his hands because he was whining at nap time. She has been charged with first-degree murder. DHS finally issued an emergency closure order May 18 and workers served it on Chiles in jail. The changes require DHS officials to decide in one business day whether to shut down a day care, if a licensing specialist or supervisor recommends an emergency closure. Policymakers specified the agency must enforce the emergency order by the next day the day care is open, even if that day is on the weekend or a holiday. The agency has closed nine day cares by emergency orders this year. The new rules expand from one to eight the number of officials who can decide to issue an emergency order. The new rules also spell out 10 serious hazardous conditions that could justify an emergency closure. The situations include the serious injury or death of a child and the discovery of illegal drugs. Other new rules force a day care owner to post for 120 days a summary of a DHS investigation that confirms abuse or neglect at the day care. The summary must be "within clear view of the main entrance.” The day care owner also must post any DHS waiver allowing the day care to employ someone with a criminal record. A day care owner also must keep a file accessible to parents and prospective customers at the facility. The file must include the most recent inspection report and any other inspection report in the last 120 days. On file for a year will be the summaries of investigations confirming abuse or neglect. The Commission for Human Services approved the changes unanimously. DHS plans to have some information about day care inspections online by Sept. 1, Hendrick revealed at the commission's monthly meeting.
Adoptions mark recordA record 1,579 Oklahoma children were cleared for adoption last fiscal year. The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services marked the occasion Tuesday by witnessing what officials described as the first public adoption in state history. Normally, adoptions are done privately in a judge's chambers, said George Johnson, DHS spokesman. Tuesday's public adoption was quite an affair. Steven and Maylene Sorrels of Moore, who already had six children (three each from previous marriages), adopted four more girls Tuesday to bring their total number of children to 10. All but one live in the home. "We have a baseball team,” Oklahoma County Disrict Judge Richard Kirby quipped. "Brothers, do you promise not to pester these young girls?” "I think it's the other way around,” their mother responded.
Family growsAdopted into the Sorrels family were Maylene's four nieces, Taylor, Nicole, Gabby and Breanna. They range in ages from 7 to 13. "This is what a judge lives for,” Kirby said. "We get to witness the beginning of a family.” The children became eligible for adoption after Maylene's sister, addicted to methamphetamine and crack, left her four little girls with a sitter on Christmas Eve 2003 and never returned, DHS officials said in a news release. The girls' natural father also has a drug addiction and frequently abused the girls' mother, the news release said.
Faster processDHS officials have been pushing to speed up adoptions in Oklahoma. A record 1,579 children were authorized for adoption in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The previous record of 1,336 was established the year before. A child is deemed authorized for adoption when all known viable legal barriers to adoption have been removed, the child has been matched to a specific family and all necessary background checks and home studies have been completed. Staff Writer Randy Ellis