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For the Children- March 6, 2017

A Brighter Future for Every Oklahoma Child

In January of 1978, the Terry D. v. Rader lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in Oklahoma City. The suit alleged abusive practices, unconstitutional use of isolation and restraints, the absence of adequately trained staff, and the mixing of offenders with non-offenders in state run shelters. Following the lawsuit, several public institutions were closed, and the Department of Human Services (DHS) implemented a variety of community-based programs for children and youth, including both residential and non-residential services.

Two entities were also formed to improve the conditions for children in Oklahoma:  The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth (OCCY) and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA).

The mission of the OCCY is to improve services for children by facilitating joint planning and coordination among public and private agencies; independently monitoring the children and youth service system for compliance with established responsibilities; and entering into agreements to test models and demonstration programs for effective services. The programs under their operation are the Office of Juvenile System Oversight, the Office of Planning and Coordination, Children of Incarcerated Parents, the Post Adjudication Review Board and the Child Death Review Board. Appointed commissioners meet to consider proposals for improvements in state child welfare systems and submit recommendations to the Governor, Legislature, Supreme Court, and agencies responsible for developing or improving services to the children and youth of the State of Oklahoma. This is essentially a watchdog group monitoring the state’s various child welfare programs.

OICA was established by a group of citizens to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma. In particular, we work with and on behalf of children in state custody and children growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. OICA is a non-profit advocacy group that seeks to influence public strategy by working with policymakers outside the confines of government control.
OICA’s advocacy in action:

  • Is Data-Driven – sharing the latest, most relevant data and research on key issues and indicators related to the well-being of children and youth through our KIDS COUNT data book program, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Promotes Best Practices – translating data and research into practice, and promoting best-practice program models and effective partnerships that achieve results through our various programs we administer.
  • Changes Policies – using data, research, and partnerships to identify solutions and promote policy-making decisions through our Oklahoma Kids Legislative Analysis (OKLA) and other advocacy work.

The goal of OICA, quite simply, is to ensure that every child in Oklahoma – from birth to adulthood – is nurtured, healthy, educated, protected from harm, and thriving. 

If you have a child welfare issue which needs investigation, please contact OCCY through https://www.ok.gov/occy/Contact_Us/index.html or at (405) 606-4900.  If you would like to get involved in proactive work through OICA, sign up for our OKLA Alerts at oica.org or contact us at (405) 236-5437. Together, we can and will make a difference for the children of Oklahoma!


For the Children- Feb. 27, 2017

Oklahoma's Budget Crisis Requires New Revenue

In the last several weeks, a lot of eyes have been focused on Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall and the effect it may have on our state. We have heard a lot of talk about revolving funds, off-the-top spending, structural imbalances and dozens of other terms capitol insiders use to describe the current budget crunch.

All of that sounds complicated, but if you break down its major components, the state budget is not unlike the personal budgets that families manage. Simply put, you need your income to be greater than your expenses. If it isn’t, you are in trouble. 

I like to think of the state’s total revenue as the income that someone might receive from two jobs. The state earns income from collections in the form of several major tax categories, including income, sales, motor vehicle and gross production taxes. Those are permanent sources of revenue, like a full-time job. Cigarette, franchise and other smaller taxes are like a second, part-time job.

Combined, those two “jobs” account for the money coming into the state. The money going out in the form of expenditures is mostly accounted for by various state agencies. Each state agency is like a bill that needs to be paid each month. You pay a mortgage, car payment, and insurance bills. The state pays the Department of Transportation, Department of Education, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and other agencies to perform core government services.

In a good year, a working Oklahoman might get a bonus on their full-time job, which could allow them to cut hours on their part-time job. They don’t need the extra money to pay the bills, so why work the extra hours?

Similarly, the state has experienced some good times over the years because of economic development or oil and gas booms. That has occasionally produced excess revenue, which in some cases has gone into the Rainy Day Savings Account. Many times, however, that money has been returned to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, fee reductions, or other reforms that reduce state revenue in future years.

Now here’s where things get tricky. Let’s say a family is going through an economic rough patch, and they need to increase their hours at their part time job by working a few extra shifts. That may not be ideal, but it is one way to balance their budget.

The state, however, can’t do that.  Because of the Oklahoma Constitution, cuts made to state revenue in the form of tax cuts are permanent unless the Legislature votes by three-fourths of the membership to increase taxes.

With revenue being difficult to raise, the Legislature often turns to cuts. Some lawmakers say that’s a good thing. Oklahoma families must control their spending; why shouldn’t the state?

That’s a fair point, but here is the truth of the matter: our state government is not like a family that has bought a Ferrari and now must return it. We are like a family living in a house with a leaky roof and no heat, driving our kids around in a car that is about to break down. The solution to that problem is not less spending; it is investment with proper revenue.

Legislators this year must decide whether to make cuts to the budget or bring in the additional revenue to provide services by raising certain taxes. I hope supporters of OICA and a functional government will take the time to contact their legislators and voice support for reasonable policies that raise revenue and help our state agencies stay afloat.


For the Children- Feb. 20, 2017

Helping Children Through Mentorship

YMCA YAG

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy takes the role of championing causes for kids very seriously.  OICA has worked at the state capitol and around Oklahoma for 34 years to see better opportunities, primarily for at-risk kids.  While we will never shirk that mission, when I took over the role of leading the organization, I committed that we would do more to help all kids. This would include an additional effort to prepare the future leaders of our state and nation.

OICA is working to develop new leadership programs for students from various cultures and backgrounds that do not already have some type of association. We intend to provide needed skills to these emerging leaders and help prepare them for the day when they will be active in government, their communities or the business sector. We are developing these different leadership entities and hope to see them become a reality by next summer with proper funding and programming support. For more information on how to assist, please contact us at oica.org or at (405) 236-5437.

For the many programs already in existence, I want to see OICA provide added benefit to those organizations.  I had the pleasure of working with the YMCA Youth and Government program over this past weekend.  Other volunteers and I served as advisors at the State Capitol for these high school students interested in politics and the media.  The students I worked with were taken on tours of a radio station, a television station, the Oklahoma History Center, the State Capitol and they participated in the organization’s mock legislative and judicial programs. To learn more about Youth and Government program, check out http://ymcaokc.org/children-youth/teen-initiative/youth-and-government or call Whitney at (405) 297-7778.

There are many other statewide youth programs available, and two are currently taking applications.  Oklahoma Girls State, found at https://okgirlsstate.com/ on the web, and Oklahoma Boys State, located at http://okboysstate.com/, provide the process for how to join.  These programs are open to students who have completed a specific grade level and have a strong interest in government. The University of Oklahoma additionally offers college hours for the young women who attend Girls State. This information can be found at http://www.ou.edu/concurrent/girls-state-.html on how to receive this credit.

Interested parties should also check out the Youth Leadership Oklahoma program, located at http://leadershipoklahoma.com/Youth-Program/Overview on their website.  While this application process has closed for 2017, this is certainly one of the premier organizations for young Oklahomans to participate and learn about our great state!

For adults, we need you to volunteer and help mentor programs with 4-H, FFA, Scouts and the other youth organizations available around Oklahoma.  The best thing for these young leaders is to learn from those who have been there before and who can help pass along the wisdom of service.  As one of my mentors used to say, “We need to leave the woodpile just a little bit higher than we found it” and that philosophy applies for the children who will soon serve as leaders. 

About OICA

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens, to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. 

Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.“


2017 OK YMCA Youth and Government Governor Lyndsey Speer delivering her “State of the State” to the assembled delegates in the chamber of the Oklahoma House of Representatives


For the Children- Feb. 13, 2017

Is Your Glass Half Full?

I try to be a “glass half-full” kind of person, but there are times when parts of your world can wear you down.  We all experience this to some extent, but it is how you deal with these situations that determines the outcome and impact on your own life and those around you. Far too many children in Oklahoma experience negative circumstances which can change the course of their entire lives.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy asked Dr. Jennifer Hays-Grudo serve as the keynote speaker on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) for our annual KIDS COUNT Conference.  Dr. Hays-Grudo discussed the results of studies across the United States with children 17 and under and the trauma associated with their childhood.  Not surprisingly, of the categories tested, Oklahoma ranked at the top with the highest percentage of children experiencing childhood trauma that followed them into adulthood. You can view slides from her presentation at www.oica.org/conference for more details.

We face a generational cycle of trauma which simply will not be fixed overnight.  Our 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book showed slight improvement from recently collected statistics, so we must not backtrack.  There is far more work needed to continue solutions within the Oklahoma State Capitol and the various agencies, as well as neighborhoods and communities.

As work carries on to improve the lives of kids, we cannot lose focus on what polices should endure to give these children the fighting chance to lead a normal, productive life. This includes adequate funding to hire the right personnel to deal with the day-to-day care of these children, along with the proper programs in place to provide a way out of a vicious generational cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect. We must stay the course on efforts which will improve the lives of these at-risk kids.

The effort over the past several years to restructure how Oklahoma oversees treatment within state care and custody, a result of judicially-mandated action to clean up the problems, is continuing to adapt and grow.  I have no doubt the Oklahoma Fosters initiative to recruit new foster parents, the continued development of policy under the Pinnacle Plan to restructure foster care services, and the shift in mindset from punitive treatment to more rehabilitative management of children in the juvenile justice system will provide better opportunities for future generations.

It would be easy to see Oklahoma as a “glass half-empty” state when it comes to the treatment of kids, but we need to work for the positive, knowing the worthwhile challenge is making a difference for the children. While the effort might wear each of us down some days, we must remember the change we are pursuing for the better treatment of kids is worth the struggle. Whether you work directly in child services, or simply donate to help local youngsters with a positive experience, it truly does matter to those children impacted.  If you want to join our effort, visit oica.org for how to get involved.


For the Children- Jan. 23, 2017

The Women's March

On Saturday, January 21, more than five million women gathered in various locations around the world at over 670 planned marches.  The intent was to show the new leaders elected in our government that women of all ages are a strong force, and issues of importance – equality, health care, race, issues with disabilities, and sexual assault – are topics that need more positive attention through policy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy also works in partnership to address these challenges for our youngest residents.

The rally which I attended in Oklahoma City was a gathering of men and women from different parts of the state.  Those assembled were very happy with the turnout, estimated by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at between 12,000 to 14,000 participants.

There are different types of events meant to inspire change, ranging from marches, to protests, to riots.  Marches are intended to be peaceful demonstrations to promote a cause.  Protests are gatherings to encourage action, but usually with an anger associated with that effort.  Riots are full-scale outbreaks of criminal activity which lead to arrests and upheaval.  A good contrast to Oklahoma City’s peaceful, constructive rally would be the riots that occurred in Washington, D.C. surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration.  Those riots led to more than 230 arrests, property damage and persons injured.  The very next day, thankfully, more than 500,000 people marched in the same city with not a single arrest. The riots were counterproductive and destructive; the peaceful rallies and protests are continuing to spark a productive dialogue.

As that dialogue continues, I hope that both sides will work on improving the way they communicate with each other. Even at peaceful rallies, which were filled with well-meaning people, the use of vulgar language on some of the signs was off-putting and unnecessary.  In addition, many children were in attendance. To get these young folks active in inspiring better policies through activism is vital.  Those who carried ill-mannered signs need to understand this hurts these young people by associating politics and civic engagement with cynicism and vulgarity. Protesting in this manner also gives the other side more cause to refuse to come to the middle for the dialogue.

That being said, I do believe the overall message, especially from the marches in Oklahoma, was extremely positive, genuine and much-needed.  There are just as many people uneasy about this current administration as there were eight years ago from the opposite political spectrum in the Tea Party.  Both that effort and this current one demonstrated to those concerned there are others with similar views and they are not alone, even though it sometimes feels that way.  That part of the healing process will be important going forward, but only if positive actions follow.

Some have criticized these marches, but this goes to one of the core principles of our nation to allow people to peacefully assemble and hold their government accountable for better policies.

If the participants of these marches truly decide to pursue that necessary effort to influence policymakers, our nation could become more like what they championed. Better yet, the children who attended might not only initiate their own positive activism someday, but will hopefully live in the world which was promoted in the more positive messages delivered on Saturday.

If you want to join us in this effort, sign up at oica.org to volunteer!

 

For the Children- Jan. 20, 2017

We need your help for the children!

Through my years of public service, I felt there was no mission greater than working to improve the lives of children.  I was dedicated to improving our state for these Oklahomans as a lawmaker.  I am now honored to serve you in my new role as CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, a non-profit organization that oversees youth-related state policies and programs. I say “serve you” as I know you agree with how important it is to support the future of Oklahoma. OICA will be diligent at the Capitol in serving as a watchdog over our state lawmakers and agencies while providing a voice for Oklahoma youth and families.

With an enormous state budget shortfall and many new faces in our legislature, it has never been more critical to build a strong, effective, persistent, and well-informed statewide network of child advocates to ensure our legislators are taking action on correct priorities. Your support, whether it be dollars donated or hours volunteered, means OICA will be present at the Oklahoma State Capitol and can equip advocates with facts and statistics from our soon-to-be published KIDS COUNT Data Book: 2016 Summary. For example, in our state, nearly one million of our residents are children, aged 17 or younger. Of that one million:

  • 1 out of every 3 children lives in a family where no parent has full-time, year round employment.

  • 1 in 4 children is food insecure, not knowing when their next meal will be.

  • 1 in 5 children lives in poverty, with 1 out of every 10 living in extreme poverty.

  • 1 in 10 children has one or both parents incarcerated during their childhood.

These numbers – and the real-life situations of the tens and hundreds of thousands of children they represent – are unacceptable! The Annie E. Casey Foundation and donors like you make this book possible for our advocates. Equipped with this information, our allies will make a difference in shaping policy.
To be prepared for this battle for the children of Oklahoma, we need your help! We need you to join us with a financial contribution at www.oica.org/donate orvolunteer as an advocate to help support our fight!

With your support, OICA will provide critical policy updates with our Oklahoma Kids Legislative Analysis. This email update, prepared by our team at OICA, will show timely information during the legislative session regarding bills impacting children and families in Oklahoma. For the Children, a weekly column written by myself or members of our board, will center on issues regarding children and families in our state. Sign up to receive this update directly through your email at www.oica.org

Please support OICA by making a tax-deductible donation of $1,000, $500, $250, $100, $50, $25, or any amount to help with the critical oversight and the distribution of information to advocates.  

You can make a credit card donation online through our secure server or by mailing a check to:

The Institute for Child Advocacy

3800 N. Classen Blvd, Suite 230 

Oklahoma City, OK 73118

Thank you for joining us in this very important cause! Best wishes to you and your loved ones in 2017 as we work together for better days ahead for the children of Oklahoma!


 

For the Children- Jan. 2, 2017

Resolve to Help Oklahoma's Children in 2017

I hope each of you have had the happiest of holidays!  There were many complaints regarding 2016, but I am thankful for many of the personal and professional changes in my life and look forward to the great opportunities we will see in the New Year.

I was fortunate to see family and friends over the break.  I was especially delighted with the Christmas gift from my mother.  When I opened it, I found a pair of brand new work gloves.  While this might not seem like much, I immediately knew the significance.  I recognized the brand as the same type my father used before he passed away.  This was the last pair of gloves he bought and was not able to use. This led to my resolution for 2017 – keep fighting for better opportunities for kids in Oklahoma.  

My dad worked in construction his entire adult life before he became severely injured in a truck accident soon after I was born. Even with this slowing him, he still did what work he could around our home and by helping our neighbors.  He even attended small engine classes at the local career technology center to learn more about how to repair lawn mowers so he could tinker in his garage.  There are not many days when I do not think of him and what he did to help others, and that certainly helped shape me as a person.  

He and my mom made certain I studied hard and was active in school programs, such as 4-H and Scouts. I was fortunate that it was their involvement in my life which made a world of difference for me. This led me to public service, both as an elected official and running the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, a non-profit aimed at improving the lives of children.  

At OICA, we will soon unveil the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a document which contains statistics on where Oklahoma ranks in categories impacting the children of our state and the nation. Thanks goes to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the entity which funds this effort in all 50 states so people are aware of their ranking and what efforts are needed to improve conditions. You can check out our mission at oica.org and soon see the digital version of KIDS COUNT. Most importantly, you can also sign up to volunteer in our effort for a better Oklahoma.  

It will be the work of OICA and our many partner organizations which will make a difference in educating policymakers during the upcoming legislative session, and we need you to be involved.  

I might not be doing the same type of labor as my father, but the work he and my mom helped prepare me for will continue to make a difference in the lives of others.  I know my dad would be proud that the gloves he owned will be in my office reminding me of my resolution to improve our state for the children.  

 

For the Children- Dec. 19, 2016

For Some, It is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The holidays are often a time to rejoice, but some do not share the joyful feelings of the season. The shorter days of winter can bring a gloomy mood and the hype of the holidays can set unrealistic expectations, especially for youngsters.

Children may feel sad or anxious around December for many reasons, including added stress from splitting time between divorced parents, coping with the recent loss of a loved one, or issues surrounding school.

Adults need to be attentive to signs displayed by children.  It is also important for grown-ups to be cognizant of how their own stressful actions might impact youngsters.

To help kids cope with this sadness, Dr. Elizabeth McCauley, interim director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has offered advice on ways to lessen holiday stress.

Dr. McCauley advised adult family members to include children in planning activities, to help set realistic expectations for holiday events. Kids can become disappointed when things do not live up to what they’ve imagined, which can trigger sadness.  Involving the kids in the planning can help manage their expectations.

She also encouraged adults to establish goals which fit budgetary constraints. Open conversations about the hype of the season versus reality are healthy. Acknowledge if the family is not able to take a special trip or purchase certain gifts.

Dr. McCauley also recommended instituting some structure into the season by making advance plans.

Transitioning from school to the break can be difficult for children who are used to a routine. Structure is preferable for many and often reduces stress.  Knowing what is planned lets youngsters understand what will be happening and be prepared.  Planning things they enjoy, also reduces their stress.

Depression is a problem that many individuals face at this time of year, including young people. Depression is the most common mental health problem in the U.S. according to McCauley. Recent reports indicate that depression affects 17 million people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds annually. As many as one in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as one in eight.

Depression can occur for many reasons – family conflict, school pressures, or problems with peers. For parents, it’s important to be able to differentiate when a child is feeling a little blue versus experiencing depression.

Signs and symptoms of depression in children and teens include: sadness or feeling irritable, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, eating too much or too little, weight changes, sleeping too much or too little, feeling tired a lot, feeling guilty, trouble thinking or paying attention, or suicidal thoughts or behavior.

The best advice for overcoming the seasonal blues is to spend time talking with and listening to kids. Anticipating their potential struggles can help make the holiday season enjoyable for the children, as well as the rest of the family.

May this season be bright for all of you from everyone at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy!


For the Children- Dec. 5, 2016

The 2017 Legislative Session Holds Promise for New Opportunities

The battle to improve the circumstances of Oklahoma’s children is largely fought in the Legislature, where lawmakers will  appropriate funds and create policies which impact education, health, foster care and other areas that directly effect kids.

 Regardless of one’s political preferences, successful advocacy hinges on understanding the political environment at our State Capitol.

 Today, that environment is driven by two main forces: the increase in numbers of the Republican policymakers and  legislative turnover created by term limits.

 In the State House, Republicans gained four seats, meaning they now control that chamber with a supermajority of 75 members, compared to 26 elected Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans held onto 42 of the 48 seats. According to Ballotpedia, Oklahoma is one of 31 "trifecta government" states with one-party control over the executive and legislative branches. In these states, twenty-five are controlled by Republicans and six by Democrats.

Just as important to understanding the make up of the Legislature is recognizing the startling number of new faces who will join the House and Senate in 2017. In the Oklahoma State Senate, 13 new members took the oath of office out of the 48 member legislative body. In the House, 32 new representatives were elected from the 101 member body. That means almost 1/3 of our lawmakers will be “freshmen” legislators attempting to learn basic parliamentary procedure, grapple with new responsibilities and political realities, all while trying to drive a constructive policy agenda. With such a large group of new members, groups like OICA will need to work doubly hard to educate lawmakers about the challenges and problems facing many of Oklahoma’s children.

It was in this context that I was happy to join Rep. Leslie Osborn, R – Mustang, last weekend on Your Vote Counts, a segment held each week on News 9 in Oklahoma City. You can find the link on News9’s website (http://m.news9.com/Video.aspx?clipId=12942517&catId=112037).  

The discussion ranged from the mission of OICA to what to expect from the new leadership team, in which Rep. Osborn will play a significant role.  We both were optimistic with might occur to alleviate the decrease in revenue collections and new laws passed by policymakers regarding the budget.  From modifications to tax credits and exemptions, to the discussion for an increase in the Oklahoma tobacco tax, the 149 legislators and our governor will have some tough decisions to make for the best interest of our state.

Speaker-elect McCall and Pro Tempore-elect Schulz will need strong leaders in the various appropriations chair positions and should do everything in their power to include the various perspectives from around the state who have been designated by their districts to be the voices for each at the capitol.  I have been impressed with the willingness to delve deeper into the budgets of the larger agencies at this early stage. Speaker Larry Adair during the revenue shortfalls faced in his tenure charged his committee with reviewing agency budgets from the greatest to the smallest.  This resulted in a balanced budget which was submitted to Gov. Brad Henry.  I am seeing similar willingness from this newer, younger leadership team.  I hope this spirit will continue through policy decisions and the best interests for the children of Oklahoma in the new laws considered beginning in February with the new session.