House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, today issued the following statement on a Department of Human Services report on the agency’s role in the death of a five-year-old Oklahoma girl, Serenity Deal:
“Five weeks after the statutory deadline to report on its involvement in Serenity’s case, DHS has produced essentially the same information contained in the report already issued by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth. I am not convinced the DHS report tells the full story.
Several questions remain, namely, what was the nature of the disagreement between Lincoln and Pottawatomie County case workers about whether Serenity should have been placed with her father? Why didn’t the courts have all the information needed to make informed decisions in Serenity’s case? I hoped this report would answer those questions and more. The report is instead mostly a chronological recounting of the bureaucratic and legal maze Serenity went through before her death. It confirms the heartbreaking fact that Serenity was put in a risky environment, but offers little explanation or analysis as to why.
The challenge before the Legislature is to make sure we address any systematic failures that might have occurred. The Legislature’s intent is not to point fingers or cast blame. We simply need information so we can identify the problem and try to fix it. We will continue gathering that information as we work to better protect our children and most vulnerable citizens.”
BACKGROUND: Serenity Deal, 5, was beaten to death June 4. Serenity was in DHS custody and had been placed in her father’s care as part of a trial reunification despite documented evidence that Serenity had been repeatedly injured while in his care in the past. Serenity’s father has been charged with her murder. An Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth report and news reports indicate there were major disagreements among DHS officials in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties about whether Serenity should have been placed in her father’s custody.