DHS's screened out calls often followed by child deaths, near deaths

BY RANDY ELLIS Modified: June 17, 2010 at 6:32 am •  Published: June 17, 2010
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A review of the deaths or near-deaths of 82 Oklahoma children reveals the Oklahoma Department of Human Services received 430 complaints of abuse and neglect in the time leading up to and surrounding their personal tragedies, according to a draft report prepared by staff of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.

That is an average of more than five complaints per child and once again raises questions about DHS' effectiveness in protecting children after abuse has been reported.

Oklahoma has had several highly publicized child deaths in recent years, including Kelsey Smith-Briggs and Aja Johnson, where subsequent inquiries revealed DHS had received numerous complaints of abuse and neglect in the months leading up to their deaths.

The draft, to be presented to the full commission today, focuses on how DHS employees handled abuse and neglect complaints that mentioned drug or alcohol use as problems within families in which children later died or nearly died.

What was found
Researchers found that drug or alcohol use was reported in 136 of the 430 complaints concerning 55 of the children.

Thirty-seven of those 136 complaints were screened out by DHS workers and supervisors who concluded the substance of the complaints, including the presence or use of alcohol or drugs, did not amount to abuse or neglect.

The 37 screened-out complaints related to 27 families, and in all 27 families, DHS later received referrals that concerned the death or near death of a child.

"Very few referrals are accepted as an investigation or as an assessment based upon the use or abuse of a substance, alone,” the report states.

Researchers wrote DHS workers inappropriately screened out 10 of the complaints based on DHS policies.

The fact that many children died or nearly died after complaints regarding their families were "appropriately screened out” could indicate a need to review DHS policies for screening out complaints, acknowledged commission Director Lisa Smith. Dying too Young page


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