It was only a couple of years ago that Oklahoma made headlines as the state having the highest rate of abuse and maltreatment of children in its foster care system. The recent release of statistics concerning child abuse and neglect not limited to the foster care system has once again resulted in headlines. Public officials are now attempting to explain current data showing a rise in maltreatment incidents while child abuse has decreased. Consequently, medical professionals question the accuracy of the report released by the state based upon the sharp increase in abuse victims they treat in their practices.
Dramatic drop in abuse cases puzzles DHS officials
According to a report issued by the Oklahoma Department Human Services, the past six years have seen a 50% decrease in child abuse cases in the state. There were only 1,407 substantiated cases of abuse last year. At the same time that cases involving child abuse decreased, the state reported that neglect cases tripled in number.
The head of DHS admitted no known explanation for the trends shown by the data — other than attributing it to efforts by state officials to make law enforcement officials, teachers, child-care workers, and others coming in contact with children aware of the signs of maltreatment and the importance of reporting them. Children exposed to illicit drugs, particularly opioids and methamphetamine, may have been a contributing factor to the increased number of neglect cases, according to DHS.
Health care professionals question the accuracy of the child abuse data released by DHS based upon the number of victims treated at their facilities over the past few years. The Oklahoma data also appears to conflict with statistics released by the federal government.
How will DHS and law enforcement agencies react?
Questions about the accuracy of recently released child abuse and neglect data follows on the heels of criticism leveled at DHS early this year. Critics claim the agency has not done enough to protect children in its foster care system in spite of a federal lawsuit. One response could be increased enforcement of stringent state laws that target individuals engaged in child abuse while providing for the prosecution of anyone failing to protect a child in danger.
Oklahoma law makes it a felony punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law defines “child abuse” as causing or attempting to cause willful or malicious harm to a child who is less than 18 years of age. Someone convicted of enabling child abuse can be punished as severely as a person committing the abuse.
State law imposes on the following categories of individuals an obligation to file a report with DHS of suspected child abuse or neglect:
· Physicians and surgeons
· Registered nurses
The law includes a provision imposing an obligation to report suspected abuse or neglect for any person with reason to believe a child has been or is being harmed.
Although the law requiring reporting of suspected abuse and neglect includes a caution that such reports should be made in good faith, false allegations do occur. An accusation of child abuse may cause irreparable harm to the personal and professional life of the individual regardless of exoneration or acquittal.
Learning more about child abuse and neglect laws
The importance of protecting children from child abuse and neglect cannot be overemphasized. Still, individuals under investigation need to ensure their rights are protected. The advice and guidance of an experienced defense attorney helps to protect the rights of the accused.