Dying Too Young: State says Oklahoma's child abuse reputation is unfounded

Oklahoman Modified: March 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm •  Published: March 27, 2009
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Oklahoma has been ranked the worst state for child abuse deaths, but state officials insist the label is unfair.

“In Oklahoma, children are 13 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect as those in Maine,” the Every Child Matters Education Fund said in a widely publicized report last year.

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization ranked the states based on information states provided the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.

Oklahoma had 4.8 fatalities for every 100,000 children — the worst of 48 states with comparable data. The organization said factors include Oklahoma's higher poverty level and how little is collected in state taxes to pay for programs that could help.

Howard Hendrick, the state Department of Human Services director, gave a different reason. He said, “Oklahoma's methodology for counting child deaths will include more circumstances than most states because our definition is broader, we review more deaths and our burden of proof for reporting deaths is lighter than other states.”

For instance, he said Oklahoma will report a death as from abuse or neglect if the evidence is credible one of those is the cause.

“Some states do not report deaths unless the evidence is ‘clear and convincing' or ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,'” Hendrick said

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