TULSA, Oklahoma — Oklahoma's Department of Human Services said Monday two employees will be fired for mishandling a case involving a disabled 15-year-old boy who died of pneumonia last year after suffering alleged neglect and abuse at his father's home.
The state agency also said an internal investigation has prompted the agency to beef up how it improves child protection — particularly when DHS becomes involved in cases with children who have mental and developmental disabilities.
The embattled agency was restructured beginning in 2012 after several high-profile cases in which children died while in state custody.
Quinten Wood died Jan. 4 of acute pneumonia in 2013. His sister, Valerie Wood-Harber of Fayetteville, Arkansas, said she started calling DHS in mid-December 2012 after her other brother, Cameron Wood, then 14, told her he was in charge of bathing, clothing, cooking for and looking after Quinten at their father's home.
Wood-Harber said she made 22 calls to DHS that were never returned. She took her brother's cause to Gov. Mary Fallin last month, saying children with disabilities needed "stronger advocates in the Capitol."
"All of Quinten's siblings — Mary, Cameron, Joshua, and I — are so grateful to know that his life and the horrific circumstances that led to his death have inspired change in this broken system, and will hopefully prevent what happened to him from happening to another child — that's exactly what Quinten would want.," Wood-Harber said in a statement Monday.
A message seeking comment left at a phone number listed for the father in Oklahoma was not immediately returned. No charges have been brought in Quinten's death.
"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," DHS Director Ed Lake said in a statement.
"Ms. Wood-Harber refused to let her brother's death be accepted as something unpreventable that occurred as a result of his disability," he said.
Despite the death, Lake said the agency has confidence in its child-welfare workforce.
"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," he said.Â
Gov. Fallin said in a statement Monday that she was "absolutely heartbroken when a child's life is cut short," like Quinten's was.
"I am glad the Department of Human Services, under the leadership of Director Ed Lake, has treated this case as a priority. It is absolutely appropriate to dismiss any DHS personnel who were not following protocol," Fallin said in the statement.