Oklahoma shows dramatic improvement in protecting children
Oklahoma has cut its child death rate from abuse and neglect nearly in half in just four years and no longer ranks among the worst states in the nation.
Oklahoma has cut its child death rate from abuse and neglect nearly in half in four years and no longer ranks among the worst states in the nation.
“That's a good trend,” said Deborah Smith, director of the children and family services division for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Still, workers view any deaths as too many, she said.
Records show 22 Oklahoma children died from abuse and neglect in 2009, giving the state a death rate of 2.39 per 100,000 children, according to a recently released national report titled “Child Maltreatment 2009.”
That's a dramatic improvement from 2005 when Oklahoma had the worst child death rate from abuse and neglect in the nation — 4.63 per 100,000 children. Records show 41 Oklahoma child deaths from maltreatment were recorded that year.
Oklahoma's 2009 death rate is lower than 14 other states and the District of Columbia, but slightly above the national child abuse and neglect death rate of 2.34 per 100,000 children.
Oklahoma ranked even better than the national average in several other important statistical categories including its verified rate of abused and neglected children — 8.3 per 1,000 children vs. a national
Officials caution about drawing too many conclusions from comparing states' maltreatment rates because different states have different definitions of what constitutes abuse and neglect. Smith said Oklahoma has a more inclusive definition than the majority of states, so she believes it is more difficult for Oklahoma to achieve a low rate.
The improvement in Oklahoma's child maltreatment statistics is particularly impressive since it occurred during a downturn in the economy, Smith said. More families are under financial stress and such stress often is linked to higher rates of child abuse, she said.
DHS has pushed to make sure people who are eligible for food stamps and Medicaid services are receiving them, Smith said. The agency also has emphasized child support enforcement. Smith said she believes that work has paid off by providing vulnerable families with a better safety net that has relieved some of the stress that could have sparked abuse.
DHS has made several changes in policy and emphasis that also have helped, she said.