This is the final part in the three-part investigation into the Tulsa Boys’ Home and Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Two teenagers ran off from the facility in 2020 and died in separate incidents. Now, an investigation by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth is underway and a lawsuit is in the works against the Tulsa Boys’ Home and DHS.
You can watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Over the past stories, we have heard from the Tulsa Boys’ Home, DHS, and the attorney representing the family of Rylan Harris, one of the teenagers who died.
Blame over the deaths of Cameron Dail and Rylan Harris is all over the place. While Rylan’s family feels the Tulsa Boys’ Home and DHS are responsible, both agencies said the blame is not on them.
In this story, I spoke with an Oklahoma child advocacy group and an state lawmakers in search of the answer: What, if anything, can be done to prevent another tragedy?
Joe Dorman with the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy said there needs to be a better system in place.
“They’ve got to come up with a better system to make sure that these kids do not have the ability to leave the facility because it is not fair to the facility to be judged like that when they can not do what they need to do under the law,” Dorman said. “It’s not fair to law enforcement to be pulled away from other cases to deal with a recurring problem.”
In 2019 Tulsa County deputies were called to the Tulsa Boys’ Home 101 times after a boy ran off from the facility. In 2020, deputies responded to 226 runaway reports.
“It is harder to maintain a system to ensure these kids are in the facility and safe and secure and not essentially running wild,” Dorman said.
Joe Dorman explained that current state law makes it difficult for facilities like the Tulsa Boys’ Home to prevent kids from running off.
The staff is not able to restrain a child unless they are considered a danger to themselves or others, and they are not allowed—under their level of care---to be a lockdown facility. This essentially only gives them the option to advise the kids of the dangers of leaving and that once they leave the property, they will be reported to law enforcement.
“Some of these kids—there’s no way they should be on the streets, running wild by themselves with the staff unable to keep control of them,” Joe Dorman stated. “It does not make sense that a child who is dealing with severe trauma and mental issues would have the ability to leave a facility.”
Representative Jadine Nollan, who represents District 66, is just as concerned as Joe Dorman, and the Tulsa Boys’ Home is in her district.
“I don’t know if I can say any one person is to blame here,” Nollan stated. “Collectively, we need to look at this and tighten it up in a way that is going to better protect our kids.”
Nollan said she wishes she knew about the increase in runaway reports in recent years and knew about the safety concerns the Tulsa Boys’ Home was facing before the deaths of Cameron Dail and Rylan Harris.
“I wish that I had understood this revolving door—how easy it is for them to just leave in the middle of the night. I didn’t realize, and don’t think most people realize, that it is the case,” Nollan said. “I do wish that had been communicated to me because I would have been very concerned about it right off the bat.”
Nollan shared she has already had conversations with the Tulsa Boys’ Home and with DHS about working together to find solutions moving forward. Whether that is a change in policy or a change in state law, she is committed to making these types of facilities safer for children statewide.
“I do think we need to have answers. I do think that is the part we need to drill down on to try and prevent this from happening in the future, and I am not sure what that looks like yet. So, I hope we move forward quickly so nothing else does happen,” Nollan stated.
While conversations are taking place to prevent another death, a lawsuit against Gregg Conway, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Boy’s Home, and DHS is in the works in an effort to prove both failed Rylan .
Dorman said even while waiting on the report to be finalize, there needs to be protocols in place to keep this from happening again.
“Until the report is finalized, and we know where the blame should be placed, there obviously needs to be protocols put in place to make sure that nothing happens,” Dorman said.
Dorman also stated that until the report is filed, there cannot be blame placed. It is unclear how long the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth’s death investigation will take.
Attorney Cameron Spradling, who is representing the family of Rylan Harris, said his litigation letter to the Tulsa Boys’ Home and DHS will be mailed next week.
DHS told News On 6 in a written statement:
“We are continually evaluating the entirety of the child welfare system, including ensuring that children and youth who enter the child welfare system are properly evaluated and have the appropriate level of care and placement available to meet their needs.”
There is much to this story on who failed Cameron and Rylan. News On 6 has put together a 30-minute special, the entire story on our website and streaming apps.