MIDWEST CITY — Debbie Keele was modest when asked why she was selected for a renewed position with the state Department of Human Services.
But Keele’s supervisor quickly chimed in, saying she is a hard worker, plain and simple.
The Midwest City Police Department and DHS have renewed an agreement to embed a DHS case worker at the police office to assist with child abuse and neglect cases.
“The concept was to be able to collaborate better and more efficiently,” Keele said. “The benefit (of) being embedded in the (department) is that they have one person to go to. I’m on call 24 hours a day with them.”
In the past, police would get whoever was on call at DHS if they needed a case worker. With this program, information is more streamlined.
“It gives us immediate access to their expertise, their resources and their knowledge,” said Maj. Robert Cornelison, the support services commander for Midwest City police. “And, of course, it’s a two-way street. It gives them access to us. There was nothing wrong with the process before, other than it just took longer. (Now) it’s the same person all the time. (Keele) becomes familiar with our detectives, our detectives become familiar with her. It becomes a more personal and professional relationship.”
With cases concerning child abuse or neglect, the focus falls to the placement and future of the children, Cornelison said.
Police Chief Brandon Clabes was involved with the program’s initial start in 2010. It only lasted about a year then. He is excited the program is back and that he played a part in its return.
“You have to think outside the box in this day and age as far as law enforcement and delivering good customer service to the people we serve,” Clabes said. “In this particular case, we think it makes us more efficient and more effective, along with DHS, so it’s a win-win for everybody involved. And especially for the kids that we’re here to protect.”
DHS spokesman Mark Beutler, as well as Cornelison and Clabes, said internal changes and transitions at DHS caused the program to fall through the cracks and not be renewed a few years back. All agreed the program was well liked and a positive arrangement for both parties.
“It really just expedites things,” Beutler said.
“In the case of kids being in an unsafe home (or) situation, DHS does not have the authority to remove kids,” he said. “We would go out and do an investigation, but then we’d turn our findings over to local law enforcement. They in turn would be the ones to remove kids from the home.”
Now the process is much quicker and easier for both bodies and the families, thanks to Keele.
Child’s safety is key
After a child has been removed from an unsafe living environment, DHS always tries to move the child in the least disruptive way possible. Many times this would include having them stay with a familiar relative.
Keele, who officially started the job this month, doesn’t work directly at the police station but from offices about a mile away.
“I like making children safe. That’s the whole key,” Keele said. “Every family (isn’t) going to operate the way that I think it should or have the same values that I have. I know that and we’re taught that. But what you have to establish is: Are the children safe in that home?”
She is still working cases that she was involved with before she received this new job. Once those are completed, she’ll only work cases dealing with criminal charges, she said.
Reporting problems and keeping eyes and ears open for children in dangerous situations is something everyone can do, Keele said.
“In the state of Oklahoma, everyone’s a mandated reporter,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s teachers, doctors and counselors, but it’s actually every citizen.”