Oklahoma – I am taking a week off from discussing the Oklahoma Legislature and politics to share some important news: May 6 is Free Comic Book Day in the United States! As a collector of comics, I am excited about this day for obvious reasons. But as the CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, I am excited about the way in which it can be used to jump-start our children’s interest in reading, their imaginations, and ultimately their literacy levels. If you were not aware before, you are now: I collect comic books. When I was running for governor in 2014, my staff was actually afraid it might cost me votes. Continue Reading →
Oklahoma – We are approaching a critical deadline in Oklahoma as we near the end of the legislative session. No comprehensive budget solution has moved forward to address the roughly $1 billion shortfall facing our state. Both Governor Fallin and the House Democratic caucus have released plans to balance the budget by raising new revenues, but the House of Representatives as a whole has not unveiled their solutions at this point. Legislative leaders in the majority are working to find consensus within the body to provide the necessary 76 votes needed to pass any revenue raising measures, but time is running short. This state budget deficit is not a new problem. Continue Reading →
With a $900 million budget shortfall dominating this year’s legislative session, many lawmakers are looking to balance the budget by cutting government spending. As advocates for children, our job at OICA is to shield Oklahoma’s youngest and most vulnerable residents from any “cost-cutting” measures that would adversely impact them and, in some cases, negatively change the trajectory of their entire lives. One of those measures is Senate Bill 81, which seeks to lower the grade level at which a student can be suspended from school. Currently, out-of-school suspension is only allowable at the 6th grade level and above. SB 81 would allow children as early as third grade (only 8 or 9 years old) to be suspended. In addition, the bill would reduce the requirements for counseling programs available to these children, who are the ones who need it the most. Continue Reading →
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I believe child advocates must use this as an opportunity to advance two important goals: first; to help our friends and neighbors fully grasp how widespread and terrible the problems of child abuse and neglect are; second, to encourage them to be part of the solution. When it comes to evaluating the prevalence and impact of child abuse and neglect, the numbers tell a frightening tale. The KIDS COUNT Data Center, a joint research product of OICA and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports that of the more than 200,000 children in Oklahoma County under the age of 19, 41 percent have had an adverse childhood experience
On a statewide level, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ statistics paint an equally grim picture. Since 2014, over 363,000 cases of alleged abuse and neglect have been reported to the agency. More than 44,000 were eventually confirmed. Continue Reading →
Oklahoma – Last Friday marked the end of what political insiders call “deadline week” at the Oklahoma State Capitol. It is the last opportunity this year for legislation to pass in the chamber (House or Senate) where it was originally introduced. Legislation that fails to advance is “dead” in 2017. It is a major turning point in the session, as it gives us an opportunity to evaluate what ideas and reforms are gaining traction and which have fallen by the wayside. The House of Representatives, for instance, began with 1370 bills and resolutions, but only 316 made it past deadline week and remain active. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
As we approach the 2017 legislative session, many Oklahomans are concerned about which direction the state will move. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) released the 2016 KIDS COUNT data book last week showing areas of progress and slippage for kids. This publication, found at oica.org for your review, provides statistical analysis of 16 key factors relating to children’s well-being in our state and the nation. The good news is Oklahoma moved up two spots to 37th in the nation compared to our last review from the 2014 publication.
From Annie E. Casey Foundation’s (AECF) website – KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the well-being of children in the United States. By providing high-quality data and trend analysis through its KIDS COUNT Data Center, the Foundation seeks to enrich local, state and national discussions concerning ways to secure better futures for all children — and to raise the visibility of children’s issues through a nonpartisan, evidence-based lens. In addition to including data from the most trusted national resources, the KIDS COUNT Data Center draws from more than 50 KIDS COUNT state organizations that provide state and local data, as well publications providing insights into trends affecting child and family well-being. Through its National KIDS COUNT Project, the Foundation develops and distributes reports on important well-being issues. Much of the data from these nationally recognized publications, including the KIDS COUNT Data Book, are featured on the KIDS COUNT Data Center. Continue Reading →