OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- Child welfare workers with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) often witness children living under the most deplorable conditions. That was the case with Olivia Kyaterekera, a child welfare specialist in Oklahoma County.
Last summer, Kyaterekera responded to a tip of child abuse and neglect. At first no one answered the door, but her instincts told her something was wrong. She continued to knock until she gained access to the home. Inside she found a five year old girl, weighing only 19 pounds, malnourished and barely able to walk. “She was so thin you could count her ribs,” Kyaterekera said. “I asked her where she slept and she took my finger and led me down the hall to a closet. Inside that closet was a cup with urine and feces.”
Kyaterekera’s instincts and persistence led her to call authorities, who immediately removed the child and took her to the hospital. The malnourished child was given medical treatment and placed in a safe, loving home. Today the child is alive and thriving thanks to Kyaterekera’s compassion, determination and diligence.
At Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Kyaterekera received the highest honor awarded by the OKDHS. Commissioners and Director Howard Hendrick presented her with a special “Certificate of Commendation.”
“All I can say is ‘thank you,” said Hendrick. “Abuse and neglect is a tragic reality for many children, and front-line child welfare workers quietly save children’s lives every day. We commend you, Olivia, for your heroic actions that undoubtedly saved the life of this child.”
Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Suanne Carleson also said Kyaterekera’s perseverance was the key to saving the child’s life. “Many workers fear for their safety, and rightly so,” Carleson said. “But Olivia’s persistence in gaining access to the house—that’s an extremely important factor here that led to this little girl’s rescue.”
Upon accepting her award, Kyaterekera received a standing ovation from OKDHS Commissioners and members of the audience. Kyaterekera has been with OKDHS for two years.