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Oklahoma Child Abuse and Neglect: Criminal Intent or Lack of Resources?

29-Apr-2013

In December 2012, the United States Department of Health and Human Services released its latest findings on child abuse and neglect across the nation. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma remained as one of the worst states for child maltreatment, a notorious distinction it earns year after year. According to a Kids Count report on overall child well-being in the states, Oklahoma ranked 40th. Even worse, it was among the top three states in rate of child abuse fatalities. Last month, the Children’s Defense Fund released its latest statistics (based largely on data from 2010 and 2011), which indicated that there are nearly 8,000 children in Oklahoma who are victims of child abuse and neglect. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) has come under close scrutiny for its alleged failure to protect children after numerous high-profile child deaths, including the deaths of Kelsey Briggs and Serenity Deal.

What is causing such a significant number of cases of child abuse and child neglect in the state? Is it typically a matter of violent tendencies and criminal intent? Or does a lack of education, parenting support, and family resources feed abuse and neglect by uneducated, misinformed, and overwhelmed parents?

Two recent cases in the state seem to indicate that a lack of parenting skill and resources may have led to the neglect and abuse of two Oklahoma infants.

Most shockingly, perhaps, is last week’s arrest in Del City of a young mother charged with the child abuse murder of her 7-month-old son. It seems as if there are weekly reports of child abuse fatalities in local media, but what makes this case stand out is not the age of the victim, but the age of his mother. She is 14 years old; many would consider her to be a child herself. Although the infant’s grandmother had custody of the baby, the woman was at work, and the child was in the care of his teen mother when he sustained traumatic injuries that led to his death. The baby’s 15-year-old father is not implicated in his death.

Earlier in the month, a 21-year-old Grove woman was charged with child neglect after her 8-month-old daughter was determined to be malnourished. The woman, China Prater, was charged after initially fleeing with her boyfriend, Richard Altaffer, and the infant girl. The couple is said to have fled with the girl after becoming aware that DHS was planning to take the child, who weighed only 12 pounds. After negotiating with police, Prater brought her daughter to Integris Grove General Hospital, where the girl was found to be suffering from malnutrition. Police say Prater did not “seem concerned about the situation.” This observation, coupled with Facebook posts the young woman made about her baby, could indicate that Prater did not understand the gravity of her daughter’s health condition nor understand how to properly care for a child.

In November, Prater commented that it was funny that her baby, who would have been approximately 3 months old at the time, rolled off of her parents’ bed and licked a candy bar wrapper. When a friend expressed concern about the baby rolling off of the bed, she replied, “our bed lol its only a couple inches off the floor though. I wish i was there to see it. Its freaken funny to know she was so calm with a nutty bar wrapper and didnt stop licking it when her daddy walked in.” This may demonstrate that Prater did not realize the potential consequences of leaving an infant unattended on a bed or allowing access to potential choking hazards.

Child abuse and neglect should never be taken lightly. It is our obligation to ensure that our most vulnerable population is protected. However, it may be important to address the issues that underlie abuse and neglect as well. In some cases, it may be better to provide parents with the tools and skills they need to adequately care for and protect their children than to criminalize them for ignorance or a lack of resources. A child neglect defense attorney can help those accused of maltreatment of children to get the counseling and services they need in lieu of extensive jail or prison time.




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