OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Director Howard Hendrick responded to criticism from House Speaker Kris Steele regarding the time the department is taking to prepare a detailed report on the death of 5-year-old Serenity Deal.
“The Department will issue its report on the death of Serenity Deal when it has the information necessary to understand what different family members knew, what different workers knew, and when did they know it,” said Hendrick. “Without knowing what each person involved in the case knew, it would be premature to determine whether errors in judgment happened.”
The Deal case had multiple hearings before the Courts, said Hendrick. The department has requested and has been waiting on court transcripts which would detail the recommendations of the workers, supervisors, child’s attorney, parents’ attorneys and district attorneys each time the child’s case was heard in court.
“This information is critical to the official report and will help detail the events surrounding this little girl’s life and those leading up to her death,” said Hendrick.
OKDHS is one part of a larger system that works together to protect children. All investigative reports and recommendations by child welfare workers are given to district attorneys who then take cases before judges. Every child in state custody also has an independent attorney assigned to represent them and their interests in court.
“Until transcripts are reviewed, it is not possible to know what different persons knew and when they knew it,” said Hendrick. “The transcripts have been requested multiple times.”
While the broad series of events have been reported in the report issued by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, the context of those events cannot be known until the court transcripts have been produced and analyzed, said Hendrick.
The same state statute that allows for the release of confidential information after a child's death requires OKDHS to include in it's report the recommendations of others involved in a child's case as well as court actions. This information can only be obtained through a review of court records.
“No one intends a result like this one,” said Hendrick. “OKDHS child welfare workers do an excellent job of keeping children safe. In a case where efforts were being made to keep a family together and family members had different opinions and workers had different information, assessing more information is necessary to complete the story.”