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.
Joe Dorman serves as the CEO for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The mission of OICA is creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.