Child Abuse Cases Continue to Plague Oklahoma

The statistics regarding domestic violence in Oklahoma have continually plagued the state's reputation, particularly when those figures reflect incidents of child abuse.  A 2009 "Child Maltreatment Report" listed Oklahoma as having the third worst rates of child abuse in the nation, and other reports consistently rank Oklahoma among the top five states with the highest rates of child abuse.  The state also has one of the highest rates of death from child abuse.  Though these statistics have placed the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) under intense scrutiny, some lawmakers and state officials say that the national statistics do not accurately reflect the state of affairs of Oklahoma's children. The federal government does not require states to adopt a uniform measure when reporting child abuse and neglect.  Oklahoma's definition, according to DHS Director Howard Hendrick, is broader than those used by other states, which reflects a higher number of reported cases of abuse.  Hendrick says, "In Oklahoma, our definition is harm or risk of harm. In some states, you must have an actual physical injury, and in some states you have a burden of proof that's clear and convincing evidence."  He asserts that child abuse rates in Oklahoma are skewed by our broad definition of abuse, and that Oklahoma child abuse rates have actually declined over recent years. However, the headlines seem hard to ignore.  Over the last three days, several cases of child abuse or death from child abuse have reached local media attention:

  • Tinker Air Force Base airman Gabriel Solis entered an Alford plea in a case in which he was accused of severely beating a 1-year-old child left in his care while the infant's mother was deployed to Afghanistan.  Solis's wife, Elsa Solis, pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse.  The Solis's each face a possible sentence of life in prison.  The child's injuries included multiple broken ribs, other fractures in various stages of healing, a lacerated liver, a punctured lung, bruising, and a bite mark on his leg.  Authorities were alerted to the injuries when the child was hospitalized with vomiting and seizures.
  • Tammy L. Hopkins, 36, pleaded guilty to child abuse in a case in which she and her co-defendant, Kizzy Tremaine Johnson, 33, are accused of duct-taping Johnson's 11-year-old daughter to a bed and taking turns beating her with a belt.  Hopkins was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Johnson's trial is scheduled to begin today.
  • Amber Marie Baker, 23, was arrested on a complaint of assault with a dangerous weapon after spraying pepper spray into a car during an altercation and inadvertently spraying the 6-month-old and 1-year-0ld children inside the vehicle.
  • Van Le, 49, was arrested in connection with the death of her 2-year-old niece.  The toddler was taken to OU Medical Center with critical injuries, where she later died.
Whether Oklahoma's child abuse rates are skewed or accurate, the fact remains that too many children are being harmed in our state.  Hopefully, with continued scrutiny and improvements in existing child protection systems, the rates of abuse will continue to decline.

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