Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Steve Buck addresses the KIDS COUNT Conference participants
This past week, the OK KIDS COUNT Conference saw more than 250 advocates come together to discuss issues impacting the children of Oklahoma. We were fortunate to hear from many local experts in a variety of areas regarding poverty, healthcare, foster care and other topics involving young Oklahomans. The conference, co-hosted by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Sunbeam Family Services and the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, was a huge success in that not only were the problems facing our state discussed, but realistic solutions were also presented.
KIDS COUNT kicked off with opening remarks from Governor Mary Fallin. We were pleased to hear her plans to continue outreach in the recruitment of foster parents to meet the needs in our state. It was also helpful to know more about fulfilling the mission of the Pinnacle Plan, the program within the Department of Human Services to improve outcomes for foster families and children in the care of the state. The goal is for no child in Oklahoma to age out within the system, that every single child have a loving home and family.
The conference included a discussion with our various state agency directors in regards to their mission to help the kids of Oklahoma. The members of the panel explained how budget cuts have limited their ability to provide services and how federal funds are not received when the state cuts their portion of the match. Each director was optimistic that they will be able to continue providing care to as many Oklahomans as possible with the resources they receive. Tough choices will be required, but each will do what they can to maximize the output of their respective agencies to provide the most good for those in true need.
The keynote speech by Dr. Jennifer Hays-Grudo, formerly the George Kaiser Chair in Community Medicine at the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa and currently a professor at Oklahoma State University in Human Development and Family Science, educated the participants about her work in the field of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These toxic experiences often lead to trauma and increased stress levels throughout a person’s life, often resulting in early death. Until we are able to improve the situations many children face, we will not see true progresses in their lives overall.
One out of every eleven Oklahoma kids has a parent in prison. One of every five children in our state lives in poverty. One out of every four young Oklahomans wakes up hungry not knowing where their next meal will come from. Each statistic is unacceptable and the partnerships developed through KIDS COUNT will work to overcome these horrible numbers.
The outcomes from this conference will soon be compiled into a document for legislators, policymakers and other interested individuals. It is my belief that we will have a stronger coalition of allies as a result who want to see a better future for our next generation. Keep posted at www.oica.org to learn more as we move forward together!