The State Senate on Wednesday approved a measure designed to better protect children from child abuse.
House Bill 2840, the Kelsey Smith-Briggs Child Protection Reform Act, was named in memorial of a two year-old victim of child abuse from Meeker. The bill would significantly reform the way courts and the state Department of Human Services handle cases related to child abuse and neglect.
Senator Harry Coates, co-author of the bill, said the measure will provide protection for children and prevent future cases from falling through the cracks.
“This case has made us all aware that current methods are flawed and reforms are necessary,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “We have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens, and that is what this measure is intended to do.”
Kelsey’s case was being monitored by child welfare workers, but a judge ordered her to be returned to the custody of her mother and step-father. Kelsey died as a result of blunt-force trauma allegedly inflicted by her step-father, who now faces murder charges, last October.
The bill would give DHS and judges the authority to request investigative resources from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Additionally, the measure would establish stronger review procedures allowing for greater input by those acting as advocates for a child’s safety, health and welfare. Under the legislation, Court Appointed Special Advocates would also be required to meet national training standards.
“The case of Kelsey Smith-Briggs is heartbreaking, and it’s unfortunate that it took something so tragic to bring this issue to light,” said Coates. “This bill provides reform to ensure our children are protected.”
Coates said it was his hope the additional oversight would correct a tragic flaw in Oklahoma’s child protection system.
“Giving the OSBI and DHS greater authority to intervene on behalf of at-risk children will provide additional safeguards and accountability for judges, reducing the likelihood of similar tragedies.