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Missing: 78 children from Oklahoma Department of Human Services custody

Seventy-eight children in custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services are missing. Thirty-eight of them have been missing for more than three months.
by Randy Ellis Modified: August 10, 2013 at 2:36 am •  Published: August 11, 2013

“That's not our policy nor is that what we do,” Price said.

If a child is under 13 or over 13 and intellectually disabled, staff members will physically stop them from leaving, Price said.

“If they are 13 and over, we do everything we can verbally do to stop them,” she said.

In all cases where a child runs away, a police report is filed and a National Crime Information Center confirmation number is received, she said.

The staff member on duty when a child runs away also is required to prepare an incident report and document what was done to try to stop them, she said.

“But it's not a locked facility,” she said. “They haven't done anything against the law.”

Zettee said she has personal knowledge concerning DHS's handling of a case involving a 15-year-old girl who ran away from the Oklahoma City shelter, because the girl's mother lived with her for a time.

The girl was allowed to leave the shelter without interference, Zettee said.

For over a year, the girl was “staying with her abusive, drug addicted 19-year-old boyfriend,” Zettee said.

The girl's mother “reported to DHS several times that her daughter had come around and told her where she was and nobody was doing anything to get the child back in custody,” Zettee said.

Zettee said the girl's mother moved out and she has lost track of the case in recent months, but as far as she knows, the girl still may be listed as missing.

“I fail to see how moving a child from a situation with ‘inadequate' supervision to a situation with no supervision benefits the child in any way,” Zettee said.

As a supervisor, Jones said she has never known any of her staff not to be diligent in their efforts to locate a missing child.

“We're going to be out looking,” she said. “The foster parents are going to be out looking. They're concerned.”

“In 11 years with the department, more than half of that in management, I've never had to reprimand a worker for not making a very diligent effort to find a child,” Jones said. “That's never been an issue in all the dozens of people that I've supervised and worked alongside.”

“If we knew where the child was, it would be the expectation to inform police and have them follow up on the pickup order,” Carpenter said. “There should not be a situation where a worker is doing what they're expected to do and just allowing a child to live somewhere without following through on reporting that to the police and trying to get that child recovered.”

“It wouldn't be condoned,” she said.

Carpenter said courts have flexibility to change a child's placement to the home they have run away to if that home is investigated and deemed appropriate.

Carpenter said she only knows of one child who died within the past year while on the run from state custody.

She said the girl died from a medical condition and had been in contact with relatives while she was missing.

Active efforts were being made to locate her at the time of her death, Carpenter said.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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