CHANDLER — Chuck and Annette Deal say child welfare workers practically cut them out of their granddaughter's life before she was sent to live with her father and died.
Chuck Deal said he was in the delivery room when Serenity Anne Deal was born May 12, 2006. His daughter, Samantha Deal, was a young, single mother, so he and his wife stepped in to help financially, with midnight feedings and everything in between that it takes to raise a child.
Serenity died June 4, less than a month after workers with the state Department of Human Services recommended she live full time with her father, Sean Devon Brooks, 31, of Oklahoma City.
Chuck and Annette Deal say they're confounded as to why child welfare workers took her away from them and pushed for Brooks, who hardly knew the girl, to get custody.
Brooks is charged in Oklahoma County District Court with first-degree murder in connection with his 5-year-old daughter's death.
“This didn't have to happen,” Annette Deal said. “She was a happy, healthy little girl with us. She was always dancing and twirling and laughing.”
An internal investigation involving Serenity's case is ongoing at DHS, said Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the agency. She said it's taking longer than anticipated because they're awaiting court transcripts that would outline the judge's and district attorney's involvement in the case.
Workers on leave
The case was overseen in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. Four DHS employees who worked on the case remain on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, Powell said.
The case has already been reviewed by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth which showed DHS workers vouched that Brooks' home was safe, even though there were two documented incidents of Serenity returning from visits with her father with black eyes and bruises.
The report also states Serenity had been living with her grandparents until someone called DHS, complaining that they were allowing her to visit her mother unsupervised. Samantha Ann Deal, 21, is accused of molesting a 10-year-old boy, and is facing charges in Lincoln County District Court.
She also was living with a registered sex offender, the report indicated.
The Deal's attorney, Joe Vorndran, said DHS never told his clients Serenity couldn't visit her mother, and they never were notified in writing.
Annette Deal said she was shocked when a child welfare worker and two police officers came to her home in November 2010 and took Serenity.
“There were a lot of tears, because she didn't understand,” Annette Deal said. “She had lived with us her entire life and they took her away without even giving us a chance to explain.”
Concerns about health
The Deals said they went from seeing their granddaughter every day since she was born, to three one-hour, supervised visits a month. And getting information about Serenity's health or activities was impossible, Annette Deal said.
Annette Deal said she especially was concerned that a pacemaker that regulated Serenity's heart wasn't being properly maintained, and that the girl wasn't being taken to her regular doctor's appointments.
Vorndran said the couple tried to adopt Serenity, but needed Brooks' consent. The adoption spurred the paternity test in April 2010 that established he was the father.
He said that before that, Brooks was not part of Serenity's life and didn't show interest in seeing the girl until September 2010.
The last time Chuck and Annette Deal saw their granddaughter was May 22 to celebrate her birthday. Brooks was with her, and she was not her normal self, Chuck Deal said.
Annette Deal said Serenity seemed depressed and cried a lot.
“I kept thinking she wasn't happy because she wasn't with us,” Annette Deal said. “Now I think she was unhappy because she didn't want to be with him.”