Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DHS pays $3.4 million in child death, neglect cases

Kelsey Smith-Briggs, 2, died in Meeker in October 2005 from broken bones and other injuries. DHS settled the case for $525,000, with insurance paying $375,000 and the agency paying the rest. Courtesy

By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2011 3:08 PM
Last Modified: 9/17/2011 3:08 PM

More than $3.4 million in civil lawsuits settlements for child deaths and neglect have been made since 2005 with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, according to records obtained by the Tulsa World.

The 24 payouts range from $15,000 to settle civil rights violations of parents after DHS placed their children into emergency custody to a $700,000 payout in the death of a toddler at a Tulsa child-care home, records show.

Of the settlements, DHS paid about $1.4 million from its budget while insurance entities paid about $2 million. The agency has a self-insured liability fund with AIG/Chartis and the Department of Central Services Risk Management Division.

“The fiscal cost of failures in the child welfare system pales in comparison to the cost Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children paid as a result of those failures,” stated House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, in an e-mail to the World.

“Facts and figures like these clearly indicate a need to pursue serious policy changes at DHS. The status quo at DHS must improve and the Legislature is committed to seeing that it does.”

Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation in the rate of child abuse and neglect deaths, with 3.4 deaths of children per 100,000, according to the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Death. This is a slight improvement from 2001, when the state ranked third in the country with a rate of 3.7.

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said lawsuit settlements are approved based on the type of case. She said the litigation is used to change policy and practices.

“They work closely with the relevant agency divisions to propose statutory or policy changes or training requirements as necessary,” Powell stated in an e-mail.


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