Monday, February 10, 2014

DHS concludes Quinten Wood investigation

Initiates disciplinary actions, efforts to improve collaboration of services

Ed Lake
Director of OKDHS
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) has completed its internal investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Quinten Wood, a 15-year-old boy with disabilities who died in his home over a year ago from complications of pneumonia.  While the criminal investigation is ongoing and the agency’s child death summary is pending, DHS is taking actions based upon the information obtained through the internal investigation. 

“Quinten’s death has been heart-wrenching for all of us at DHS and our deepest sympathies go out to his sister, Valerie Wood-Harber, and his brother,” said Ed Lake, DHS Director. “Ms. Wood-Harber deserves full credit and our appreciation for pushing the system--our agency, law enforcement, the school, and health care officials--to investigate the circumstances that led to Quinten’s death.

Ms. Wood-Harber refused to let her brother’s death be accepted as something unpreventable that occurred as a result of his disability,” said Lake.  “Had it not been for her advocacy and persistence, the truth about what Quinten and his brother endured might never have been fully investigated. We hope that through discovery of the facts and the actions we are taking, they will have some peace going forward.”

Quinten’s death should not be in vain,” said Lake. “Just as we have done, we encourage every entity involved in this case to evaluate its response to children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who may be vulnerable to abuse and neglect. DHS has an important role to play in the child protection system, but not the only role.”

Upon reviewing child death cases, the agency takes into account all of the facts and the full context of cases, including the responsibility and the involvement of staff members. 

“This agency will not rush to blame or scapegoat front-line staff when the facts show they have performed appropriately and have acted in good faith.  We will not punish staff for system failures that are beyond their ability to control,” said Lake.

“Unfortunately in this case, a thorough and comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances of Quinten’s death led us to the difficult and sad conclusion that the individual actions of two employees associated with this case clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices,” Lake said. “Based upon the information that has been obtained, the decision has been made to initiate steps to terminate those employees.”

“Despite this instance, we have confidence in our child welfare workforce,” said Lake. “Child protection is anxious work.  Our workers are making life and death decisions every day under tremendous pressure never to err. Given the nature of our work, the fragility of the families we serve, and daunting caseloads, we know that tragedies may occur despite our best efforts.  When our people are acting in good faith, doing everything they know to do, this agency should and will support them when that occurs.” 

“I want to express special thanks to Kathryn Brewer, the Advocate General over the Office of Client Advocacy, for her untiring and passionate work on this case. Ms. Brewer deserves great credit for leading this internal investigation, collaborating with the family and law enforcement, not stopping until every stone had been turned in pursuit of the facts.” 

Through this investigation, DHS has also identified areas within its own organization that the agency will strengthen to improve child protection, particularly when it becomes involved in cases with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Some of these efforts include improving collaboration between its Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) and Child Welfare Services (CWS), beginning with child protective investigations and continuing through permanency planning for children in the foster care system. CWS is updating child welfare worker training to include more specific information about children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and services available. Also, DDS and CWS will work together to recruit families who have the desire to provide care for children with severe disabilities who enter the foster care system. 
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