Why are Oklahoma's children dying?

By Nolan Clay Modified: March 30, 2009 at 4:01 pm •  Published: March 27, 2009
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/> Too often, they die violently.

Some are murdered by strangers. Nineteen children perished that fateful spring day in 1995 when terrorist Tim McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building. Many, many more than that die in drive-by shootings. Gang violence is a problem.

Others, particularly the youngest victims, die from neglect or intentional abuse at the hands of parents, stepparents, daycare owners or someone they trusted. Last year, a baby died when he was eaten by a puppy. Police said the mother was asleep.

In January, four children along with their mother were strangled to death in their El Reno apartment. The children's bodies were left in the bathtub. The mother's live-in boyfriend is charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

One national group, the Every Child Matters Education Fund, reported last year Oklahoma was the worst state in the nation for child abuse deaths but state officials dispute that. They insist comparisons are unfair because Oklahoma classifies certain types of deaths as from abuse and neglect that other states don't.

Another group, Children's Rights, is suing on behalf of nine foster children to force reforms of the state's child welfare system. The advocacy group says the foster care system in Oklahoma is in severe disarray and jeopardizing rather than protecting foster children.

Critics of the state Department of Human Services blame them directly for some deaths, saying social workers have failed to save children from abusive parents.

Officials there, though, say they feel it, too, when someone dies.

“Everyone is affected when anyone is lost, regardless of the cause,” said DHS Director Howard Hendrick. “Children have classmates, teachers, parents, pastors, siblings, grandparents, social workers, doctors and counselors. All ... involved in the lives of children are affected because we care. We want to make things better for everyone. We pray and we work. We hope it is enough. Usually it is. Sometimes it is not.”

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Phone numbers and Web sites :

- Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline — (800) 522-3511

- Heartline Crisis Helpline — (800) SUICIDE

- SAFELINE — (800) 522-SAFE

- TEENLINE — (800) 522-TEEN

- Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs — (405) 530-2800

- Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition — (405) 271-5695

- Oklahoma Health Department — (405) 271-5600

- Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault — (405) 524-0700

- Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth — (405) 606-4900 or

- Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services — (405) 522-3908

- Oklahoma Department of Human Services — (405) 521-3646




Child deaths: 2006-07 :

Child deaths in 2006 and 2007 investigated by Oklahoma's chief medical examiner's office. The medical examiner's office does not review every child's death.

Total 2006 child deaths investigated: 578

Natural causes: 297

Accidents: 155

Unknown: 79

Homicides: 31

Suicides: 16


Total 2007 child deaths investigated: 594

Natural causes: 317

Accidents: 149

Unknown: 83

Homicides: 31

Suicides: 14

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