By Cynthia Williams
Last week, we kicked off our 2014 KIDS COUNT Power Lunch series with a bang! A great group of people joined us in Tulsa to talk about Juvenile Justice Reform and ways we can improve outcomes for children in the system. Our President/CEO, Terry Smith, started us off by talking about his experience working with the Office of Juvenile Affairs and explaining why juvenile justice is such an important issue to Oklahomans across the state.
The audience saw a brief video about Tulsa’s Justice Center, which is cramped and rapidly deteriorating. Tulsa’s County Commissioner, Ron Peters, discussed current problems with the facility and informed everyone of the upcoming bond issues for Tulsa County to expand the current facility and build a new juvenile justice center. For more information about these propositions, visit the Protect Our County website.
Next began the Community Conversation Discussion, featuring panelists: Blaine Bowers, District 4 Supervisor for the Office of Juvenile Affairs; Lynn Sossaman, Director of the Child Protection Coalition; Hon. Judge Doris Fransein, Chief Judge for Tulsa County District Court, Juvenile Division; and Ron Peters, Tulsa County Commissioner. This dynamic group of panelists has witnessed firsthand the issues youth and their families face upon making contact with the juvenile justice system. They understand the importance of working hard to improve community-based treatment and diversion programs for youth struggling with mental illness, addiction and other behavioral issues.
Enlightening statistics were discussed and true stories of youth in the system were shared during the event. Lynn Sossaman brought up the fact that many of the kids who end up in the juvenile justice system were first in the child welfare system; giving us two opportunities to help them, but instead we end up failing them again. Kids who start out in child welfare need quality foster homes with adequate support. Minority youth are the ones who are more likely to penetrate the system; this is largely due to the poverty that they face. Blaine Bowers pointed out that we spend six times more money on prisons than we do education, and many juvenile facilities are functioning as holding facilities, not for high risk youth, but those with “high needs” requiring treatment for things like addiction and mental illness. This is not the intended function of the juvenile justice system. Doris Fransein agreed, stating Oklahoma needs to be providing substance abuse treatment facilities for youth that are both available and paid for by Medicaid, allowing them a chance to recover. All of these are issues the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Reform Collaborative are working to address.
This was a great start to our Power Lunch Series! Thanks to everyone who was able to attend; especially Youth Services of Tulsa for allowing us to host our luncheon at their facility. We have three more events planned this year and we would love for you all to join us in learning more about what we can do to advocate for children and families. Remember our lunches are free, so we hope you can join us at our next event in Shawnee on May 23. For more information about future events, visit our website.