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Horrific deaths prompted calls for reform

Beginning with Kelsey Smith-Briggs, a series of high-profile child deaths in Oklahoma have prompted demands for reform.
BY RANDY ELLIS, NOLAN CLAY AND ROBBY TRAMMELL Staff Writers Modified: December 24, 2011 at 12:55 am •  Published: December 25, 2011

Serenity Deal, 5, who died in June from a severe head injury less than a month after she began living with her father at the recommendation of DHS. Serenity was placed with her dad even though she was injured twice in January during overnight visits with him. DHS subsequently suspended four workers involved with the case. Two were later fired, one committed suicide and the fourth quit.

The Oklahoman's examination of child death cases also turned up concerns about operations of DHS's day care licensing division.

Joshua Minton, 2, of Sperry died in 2007 after Tulsa home day care provider Vicki Chiles taped his mouth shut and bound his hands because he was making noise during nap time. A review of the death found DHS had violated its own policies by failing to close the home earlier after Chiles admitted striking another boy with a fly swatter. The state paid $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over its actions.

After Joshua's death, The Oklahoman revealed DHS had granted waivers to more than 90 former criminals — including a cop shooter, admitted child abusers and prostitutes — to enable them to work, operate or be present in Oklahoma day cares.

A subsequent investigation revealed DHS had granted state family child care home licenses to more than 230 child care homes without first requiring operators to obtain city permits or notifying the cities that the DHS licenses had been issued.

The situation came to light after one of the child care homes DHS had licensed was declared “unfit for human occupancy” after Del City officials examined it and found huge holes in the walls, a dangerously exposed space heater, a low-hanging cable in the yard and other health and safety hazards.

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