OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma committee presented 16 months of findings on the deaths of abused and neglected children in the state Thursday, and ultimately offered more than 50 recommendations aimed to improve the Oklahoma Department of Human Services' effectiveness.
The Special Review Committee reviewed 135 Oklahoma child deaths which occurred between 2010 and 2012 before conducting an in-depth review of 36 special cases.
The committee offered criticism and praise for OKDHS, but sent a consistent message of "there is still much to be done" to the department.
Of the deaths studied, a "frequent" number lived with a single parent "cohabitating with a non-biological partner," for which the incidence of abuse and neglect is almost 10 times greater than for children living with their married biological parents, according to the department.
The report would eventually conclude that "dramatic changes in family structure have enormous public costs."
In a written response to the committee's recommendations, OKDHS officials largely reiterated the need for urgency and community assistance.
"One child dying from abuse or neglect, or any other preventable death, is a needless and senseless tragedy. Oklahoma must learn from these tragedies and take action to improve child safety," a department statement reads.
"Make no mistake about it," said former Human Services Commission head Wes Lane, "we found clear areas where DHS must improve and make changes to its policies and procedures – and we note that many changes are already underway with the Pinnacle Plan. But what we ultimately have had to sadly recognize is that there are no sure methods to predict murder ... "
Lane would later echo the 38-page report, saying the time for legislative, judicial and community action and awareness is now.
"The work of this Committee will be in vain if our state does not act on these findings and recommendations," he said. "The citizens serving on this committee brought a lot of good old Oklahoma common sense to the table. They were deeply concerned that what we have with child abuse is far beyond just a DHS problem. It's an ‘all of our' problem."