A special DHS committee reviewing child deaths initially will focus on 18 cases.
The first 18 cases all involve children who died from child abuse or neglect since Jan. 1, 2010. All were either in DHS custody or DHS officials had received complaints within the previous year that the children were being abused or neglected, said Wes Lane, chairman of the Special Review Committee.
“The question that's on the public's mind is, ‘Are we at DHS doing everything that we can possibly do to protect these children?'” Lane said. “We want the public to be satisfied that we are at least doing everything humanly possible.”
Thirteen more cases may be added to the initial list, depending on the results of pending autopsies, Lane said.
Additional cases will be added later, he said.
Lane made his comments Tuesday after emerging from an organizational meeting of his committee, which was closed to the public because of the confidential nature of some of the information that was discussed.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services' governing commission recently formed the Special Review Committee amid public outcry over a series of high-profile deaths involving children in DHS custody and children DHS workers failed to remove from homes despite repeated complaints of physical abuse.
The state child welfare agency is being sued in Tulsa federal court by a New York-based child advocacy group called Children's Rights. The group alleges Oklahoma's system of caring for abused and neglected children is so bad that children are being injured and otherwise harmed while in shelters and foster homes.
Lane, one of the newest commissioners on DHS' governing board, said as an experienced former prosecutor he knows there are times it is impossible to predict someone is going to kill a child. Lane is a former Oklahoma County district attorney.
Deaths since 2010
Committee members hope that by studying the deaths they can determine whether changes can be made in policies and procedure to prevent future deaths. Lane said the committee chose to initially focus on deaths since January 2010 because that's when the child welfare agency fully implemented a new practice model for handling child welfare cases.
Lane said he is still recruiting members for his committee but hopes to complete the process within 30 days.
Dr. Robert Block, of Tulsa, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has agreed to serve in an advisory capacity, Lane said.
Individuals who have already agreed to serve on the committee, he said, include: Barbara Bonner, director of the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect in Oklahoma City; Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; and Sandra Park, deputy