The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) is under fire once again. Two employees of the agency, which is plagued by allegations of improper investigation of child abuse claims, have been criminally charged after the death of a 15-year-old boy mentally disabled boy. While criminal charges are rare for DHS workers in such a case, the District Attorney's Office determined that the two willfully neglected their duty and that one took illegal measures to cover up the failure.
In the case, the older sister of the boy notified DHS that her younger brothers were being neglected. Valerie Wood-Harber says she contacted DHS with concerns about her brothers' welfare 22 times in roughly 17 days from December 17, 2012, through January 3, 2013. She says that DHS blew her off and told her that her brother was "fine." On January 4, Quinten Wood died from complications with pneumonia.
In a petition Wood-Harber delivered to the governor's office, the woman accused Oklahoma DHS of "dysfunction," and said she was "outraged" by the agency's failure to thoroughly investigate claims of abuse and neglect.
Often, DHS caseworkers have such heavy caseloads that it can be difficult to meet the demands placed upon them. It is an often thankless job with long hours and little pay. Still, DHS has policies in place intended to make sure that each claim is investigated properly. In this case, a caseworker and her supervisor were criminally charged after the caseworker allegedly failed to uphold her duty to investigate the home, and the supervisor allegedly altered electronic records to cover her failure.
Rachel Qualls, 24, was assigned the Wood case. While she went to Quinten Wood's school to see him and to question his younger brother, 14-year-old Cameron, she did not visit the children's home as required by law. Instead, despite Cameron's reports that the children often went without food in the home and that he was the sole caretaker of his severely disabled brother, Qualls said she simply drove by the boys' home, but did not make contact with the father, did not visit the home, and did not return for the required home visit. She has been charged with a misdemeanor offense of willful neglect to perform a duty.
Her supervisor, Paul Kim Myers, 57, has also been charged with the misdemeanor of willful neglect to perform a duty. He is additionally charged with unlawful use of a computer, a felony, after he falsified computer records to hide the fact that Qualls never visited the trailer in which Quentin and Cameron Wood lived with their father.
Both Qualls and Myers face up to one year in Oklahoma County Jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. Myers faces a maximum of five years in prison for the felony charge.
Michael David Wood, Quentin and Cameron's father, denies that he neglected the boys, saying that if Quentin had been neglected, he would not have survived for 15 years. He has been charged with two felony counts of child neglect--one for each of his boys--and faces up to life in prison if convicted.