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Will 2020 Hold a Brighter Future for Oklahoma’s Children?

OKChildren

As we step into a new year, and debatably a new decade
depending upon who you ask if decades start with a 0 year or a 1, we at the
Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy are looking for a brighter future for
Oklahoma’s children.  This not only the
tag line for our new desktop calendars, but also for our feeling that this will
be the year when we truly begin to turn things in a new direction for our state. This optimism comes from several factors which we will be
facing as a state, and also a few challenges that we each will need to hold
ourselves accountable to be better. Starting with the challenges, we are facing a hostile
election year when the rancor at the state and federal level generally stoops
to a low point in civility.  While we may
or may not like who currently holds an office or might see improved
opportunities in their challengers, it is important to keep the conversation at
a respectful level.  In other words, when
debating about politics, do not behave in a way that you would punish your
children for acting similarly. 

A definite challenge with a financial advantage for our
state will be the tension between the United States and the Middle East.  Oil prices jumped and stocks fell on news
that a powerful Iranian military leader had been killed in a strike authorized
by the United States last week, ratcheting up geopolitical tensions in a region
that supplies around 25 percent of the world’s oil and threatening to disrupt
global supply. That result led oil prices to surge to more than $70 per barrel,
which creates a greater demand for local oil. 
Oklahoma’s portion of the state budget dependent upon this commodity was
written last year to be based on $54.23 per barrel.  While other areas might see a decline, this
increase, if long term, will provide additional revenue for lawmakers to help
fill in gaps with areas of need. A positive we see is the opportunity presented by the US
Census.  If Oklahoma improves our
population count, there is a chance to restore a Congressional seat by taking
one from a larger state like California. 
This also improves the resources coming to our state from the federal
government, so more funding for road, bridges and schools. Continue Reading →

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WWII VETERAN REQUESTS 100 CARDS FOR 100th BIRTHDAY

BONHAM, TEXAS – Today, Chairman of the Veterans Land Board George P. Bush asked the community for help in ensuring WWII Navy Veteran Lyndoll Hurley receives 100 birthday cards for his centennial birthday. It’s not every day that a WWII Veteran turns 100 years old. On Wednesday, January 8, WWII United States Navy Veteran Lyndoll Hurley will turn 100 years young. Lyndoll Hurley proudly served in WWII in the Navy. Please help us celebrate this momentous occasion by sending a birthday card to Lyndoll Hurley’s home at the Clyde W. Cosper Texas Veterans Home, run by the Veterans Land Board. Continue Reading →

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In 2020, Let’s Do Better and Be Better

OKChildren

As 2019 comes to a close, it seems safe to say that many Americans will not look back on this year as one of the country’s finest moments. It has become almost cliché to bemoan political polarization, lack of civility in politics and in public dialogue, inequality, or racism as a sign that something in our culture and politics has been poisoned. For many, regardless of political party or ideology or age, this is not the best of times. So, as we enter the New Year, here is my challenge to us all: Do something about it. Start 2020 with a shared mission and a determination that we can all be better, and do better, for our state and our nation. Let’s all be personally responsible for doing what we can to improve Oklahoma for the next generation and beyond. Former State Auditor Clifton Scott often would comment about his service that he “wanted to make sure he left the woodpile just a little bit higher than he found it.” This meant that he wanted his service to improve that state in some way better than when he started his political career. Continue Reading →

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Christmas Story Starts With a Census

As we are in the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other worldwide holidays celebrated during December, I want to wish each of you a peaceful, stress-free and happy time with friends, family and loved ones.  Please remember that this is a very special time for children and the tension brought about through stress at this time of year is easily detected by them.  The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) will continue our effort to provide the best opportunities for the youth of our state, and we hope you will continue to support us in this endeavor.  We will be working with policymakers in 2020 to implement the best policies and procedures to support children, and that starts with a complete and accurate count in the upcoming US Census. The need for a census is not something new; in fact, people have been conducting them for thousands of years.  One of my favorite scriptures from the Bible is the story of the birth of Jesus.  According to Luke 2:1, Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem not for the birth of Jesus, but as a requirement to be counted in the census of that time. The scripture unfolds with an order by Caesar Augustus that a census would be conducted by local governors. It was initiated because the Roman government reportedly wanted to make sure that everyone in the Empire was paying their taxes correctly. The census was supposedly carried out all over the Empire, which included most of Europe.  In Palestine, the census required every citizen to register in their historical tribal town, rather than the Roman method of counting everyone where they presently lived (a method we use today in the U.S.). That means that Joseph and the very pregnant Mary would have had to travel to Bethlehem, as this was the town that Joseph’s family was from – a journey of about 70 miles. The Bible never tells us if Joseph, Mary and Jesus were counted in that census, but they certainly went to a lot of trouble to participate! Today’s census is different in two major ways. Continue Reading →

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OICA Releases 2020 Children’s Legislative Agenda

OKChildren

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) has released its 2020 Children’s Legislative Agenda, a series of public policy goals aimed at improving child well-being in Oklahoma. The Children’s Legislative Agenda was drafted with input from attendees at OICA’s Fall Forum, which included experts from state agencies, foster parents and foster care specialists, summer food program professionals, mental health specialists, concerned citizens, and legislators. The Agenda focuses on four areas of concern:At-Risk Youth: Oklahoma must address the very high levels of children experiencing traumatic experiences at an early age and offer greater resources to those who do experience trauma. Oklahoma should increase trauma-informed training for teachers, develop a state plan for counseling within schools that includes social emotional learning standards, expand the DHS school-based service worker program, and implement other policies directed towards providing assistance to low-income families.Education and Early Childhood Development: Oklahoma must improve student outcomes at every level, including college graduation rates, by laying a stronger educational foundation for very young children. That will necessitate changes such as: providing greater assistance to low-income families seeking high quality childcare, improving teacher pay and benefits in early education classrooms, and expanding access to school-based social workers and school counselors.Criminal Justice Reform: Oklahoma must allow more families to remain intact by reducing the incarceration rate, emphasizing drug and mental health treatment, and reevaluating fines and fees associated with juvenile justice.Health and Behavioral Health: Oklahoma must increase access to primary and preventative care as well as mental health services. Oklahoma should maximize all available federal matching funds for health care in Oklahoma, remove barriers to the use of telehealth, increase the number of community health centers and take other steps that will improve Oklahoma’s health and mental health infrastructure, particularly in underserved and rural areas. Continue Reading →

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Our Wishlist for State and Federal Lawmakers

OKChildren

The holiday season has arrived, and OICA is preparing a “wish list” for lawmakers in advance of the next legislative session. Our 2020 Children’s Legislative Agenda is driven by the work that occurred at this year’s Fall Forum, and will be submitted to legislators (and available online at OICA.org) by the end of this week. To give you a sneak peek, our agenda will focus on four primary areas: education and early childhood development; at-risk youth policies; responsible criminal justice reforms; and physical and behavioral health. Our agenda includes specific suggestions and legislative or policy actions that we believe can move the needle in each of these categories.   While most of our agenda focuses on state-level policies, we are also asking Oklahoma’s U.S. Congressional Delegation to continue to engage on one federal issue which we believe could have a major impact in Oklahoma and nationwide. Currently, day care is not considered a qualified 529 plan expense (a 529 plan is a privately funded education savings investment account that comes with tax benefits, similar to a 401K retirement plan). Continue Reading →

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Preparing for the 2020 Census

OKChildren

It was an honor and a privilege to speak to a group of concerned Garfield County residents last week about the United State Census and the impact this 2020 count will likely have on our state.  The good news for Garfield County is it was one of the better performing communities across the state, with a 2010 census response rate of approximately 73 percent. That compares favorably to Oklahoma’s overall response rate of 68 percent, and just below the national rate of 74 percent. Based on the latest census estimates (for the 2013-2017 period), 3,786,725 people lived in 1,468,971 households in Oklahoma, and 109,526 people lived in group quarters, for a total population of 3,896,251.  Finding those people and verifying those population estimates, however, will be challenging. Roughly one-third of Oklahoma’s population lives in “hard-to-count neighborhoods” with traditionally low response rates to census questionnaires.  The Urban Institute, a Washington, DC-based thinktank, estimates that as many as 37,600 Oklahoma residents may be undercounted in 2020 without a coordinated effort to generate a better response rate. That number is important, because it directly correlates with the amount of federal funding Oklahoma will receive in the immediate future.   Luckily, doing your part and filling out a census questionnaire is easier than ever. Continue Reading →

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Help Brighten the Holiday Season for a Foster Child

OKChildren

There are almost 8000 children in Oklahoma’s foster care system. Most of those are kids under 12 years old, and many of them also have brothers and sisters in the system. Needless to say, it is important for the state to recruit and retain foster parents so that all these children have loving and safe homes.Foster parents are performing one of the most important, selfless acts that we can ask of our fellow Oklahomans. If you are a foster parent and are reading this, thank you for your service and the compassion you are demonstrating. If you are a foster parent, you also know that opening your home to a foster child can create serious strains on your family budget. Continue Reading →

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Young Oklahomans Step-Up to Help Their Peers

OKChildren

One of the pleasures of getting to work with the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is meeting people who are so inspired to help young Oklahomans that they dedicate a significant portion of their time, money and livelihood to this great cause. Last week, I highlighted great work being done by adults on behalf of children. This week, I am pleased to dedicate this column space to honoring Oklahomans under the age of eighteen who have done remarkable work to help their peers: other youth. These young Oklahomans have been honored with OICA’s Melvin and Jasmine Moran Kidizenship Award, presented annually to children under 18 who have elevated a service-oriented program to new heights. The recognition includes a trophy and a donation to them or their program. Continue Reading →

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Thanks To All Who Helped Make The 2019 OICA Fall Forum A Success

OKChildren

If you did not make it to the 2019 Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) Fall Forum last week, then you missed quite an event! We had more than 150 advocates from across the state assembled to participate in workshops, discuss potential new legislation with state lawmakers in attendance, and share ideas for improving conditions for the youth of Oklahoma. I have many people to thank for the tremendous work that was completed during the three-day event, and that starts with the OICA staff who made the conference happen. Our conference director was unable to attend due to an illness with a family member, and I would ask that you keep her family in your thoughts and prayers as they undergo medical treatments. The rest of the staff and our intern stepped up their game and saw everything through to completion, for which I am immensely grateful. Continue Reading →

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