DHS commissioners Thursday announced its new special review committee will look into “what went so tragically wrong” in the case of a young Oklahoma City girl who died from abuse.
“It will take a close look at this case to assess and implement any changes that might be required to better protect vulnerable children,” the commissioners said in a news release on the death of Ahonesty Hicks.
State legislators, meanwhile, called Thursday for reforms at the Department of Human Services. “These outcomes must end,” House Speaker Kris Steele said.
DHS commissioners formed the special review committee in September. They acted after being criticized for failing to publicly address high-profile instances of children dying while in DHS care.
In charge of the special review committee is a new commissioner, former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane.
Ahonesty died May 3 from a brain injury. She was 17 months old. Her mother's boyfriend is charged with first-degree murder and child neglect.
The director of a state oversight agency suggested Wednesday DHS workers could have acted more aggressively to protect the girl — first in mid-March when her mother tested positive for the illegal drug PCP and again two weeks later when the mother and boyfriend fought.
“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.
DHS workers decided not to take Ahonesty and a baby brother away from their mother in part because the mother said the children's grandmother would become their guardian. The mother and grandmother promised DHS they would keep the children away from the mother's boyfriend. Instead, the mother and two children ended up living with him.
Steele, R-Shawnee, and other House members have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to announce a strategy to improve DHS. “Ahonesty's tragic and untimely death is another indication of the need to reform the policy, infrastructure and delivery of services at DHS,” Steele said.
Two other legislators, Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, plan a separate news conference for Monday. They said they want DHS commissioners to come before the legislature to answer questions about DHS policies and procedures. “No more passing the buck,” they said in a news release.