In the past two weeks, Oklahoma City Police Detectives have been called to investigate the deaths of three babies.
The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth and the YWCA are always looking at all of the factors that lead up to the death of any Oklahoma child. They do everything they can to promote ways to stop violence and abuse in homes, before tragedy strikes.
“Being a caregiver is one of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do,” said OCCY Executive Director Lisa Smith. “And I think a lot of people underestimate it when they bring a baby home from the hospital and try to provide care.”
Smith says their main goal at OCCY is child safety, and to equip adults with how to care for a child. But many in Oklahoma don't know they are out there, until it’s too late.
Just this month alone, Oklahoma City has seen its share of tragedy. Police say 8-month-old Ezekiel Veloz was found stabbed to death inside a Southside apartment last week, after his mother took a knife to both herself and her entire family. Nineteen-month Lincoln Lewis died in a Tulsa hospital this week. His mother's boyfriend is currently in jail accused of killing him.
News 9 checked and at least two other Oklahoma City men are currently awaiting trials for killing their girlfriend's children within the past year alone. James Ray Fuston is charged with murder and neglect in the death of his and his girlfriend’s 3-week-old son. Also, Justin William Lawson is charged with rape and murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter.
“We see it many times where boyfriends are left to care for these children and they're not equipped to care for them,” said Smith. “They have poor coping skills they have anger management issues they've never dealt with, they may be children of trauma. They are expected to care for a child they don’t have an emotional bond with set.”
“It breaks our heart,” said YWCA Executive Director Jan Peery.
Peery sits on the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board and says every time there is a child death reported, they wonder what else is going on in the home.
“And when there's a death of a child from child abuse, there's research that shows that at least 70% of the time, there's a pattern of abuse against the mother,” said Peery. “At what point do we say enough?”
According to the YWCA:
“In 2014, the DVFRB identified 17 domestic violence homicide cases in which a child or children (under the age of 18) were murdered; resulting in the deaths of 18 children. Of the 18 children who died, 11 were male and 7 were female. The youngest child was less than 1 day old and the oldest child was 17. Children were murdered by their brothers, fathers, mothers, and other relatives.”
According to the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board 2015 annual report, there were a total of 22 child homicides reported, 10 of which were due to abuse and neglect.
Preliminary statistics from the Child Death Review Board 2016 child abuse and neglect deaths show that between January 1, 2016 and July 19, 2016 there have been 128 cases referred. Of those, there were 78 deaths and 50 near deaths.
Smith also says that 30% of caregivers investigated in these kinds of cases had substance abuse issues and nearly half had prior contact with DHS.
Both Smith and Peery wants everyone out there to remember just two things: