The Edmond Sun

November 12, 2011

Our View: DHS needs an overhaul

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A recent conviction of an Edmond foster mother has added fuel to the angry fire of scorn heaped at Oklahoma’s child welfare system. The system has been rocked by multiple recent failures ending in the loss of very young, innocent lives entrusted to either the state’s care or supervision.

In the case of Amy L. Holder, she was convicted of felony child abuse and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine plus a $10,000 assessment to the victim’s compensation fund with no jail time in the death of 2-year-old Naomi Whitecrow. Family members of the victim seethed with anger at how the system failed their young relative.

While we have no doubt that Judge Stephen Kistler followed the letter of state law in sentencing Holder, too many are left wondering how a $5,000 fine equals justice in a case where a young child died so brutally. Is a child’s life really worth such a small amount?

According to court documents, Naomi suffered pancreatic hemorrhage, fat necrosis, multiple contusions and abrasions of her face and scalp, a brain hemorrhage, contusions to the back, back of the head, front and back of the legs and to the buttocks.

There are no real answers forthcoming as to what really happened in this child’s final days and who is truly responsible. Those who knew Naomi and those who have read about her in the media are left to question how this can possibly happen. And not just to Naomi, but to Oklahoma children across the state, over and over again.

Leadership from Gov. Mary Fallin on down has called for a drastic overhaul of how we protect our most vulnerable citizens. Fallin has replaced board members overseeing the Department of Human Services and they are working to resolve the breakdown in processes.

We wish reformers luck. They will need it as DHS is plainly just a mess.

We recognize that none of this will be easy nor will it be quick to resolve the problems facing DHS workers and their charges. The first step needs to be an honest assessment of how our state came to its current situation. We recommend a citizen review commission to help with the most difficult, repeat abuse cases.

We also urge DHS to consider utilizing emerging technology as a means of better protecting children in foster care. Nanny cams, weekly video chat check-ins and other technology all might be part of a future monitoring solution in combination with site visits.

DHS needs a massive overhaul and it needs to happen sooner rather than later.