The legislative session is moving quickly, and lawmakers are now busy working in their assigned committees to sort through relevant bills and resolutions. I am pleased to say that our legislators have filed many bills that seek to directly impact and improve child well-being. In fact, two of those bills have been the result of a collaboration between elected officials and one of our OICA advocates, a young man who is an alumnus of the foster care system in Oklahoma.
 
The first of those is House Bill 2331, which proposes the creation of the Families Actively Made for Independent-Living-Aged Youth (FAMILY) Act.  The FAMILY Act would help keep siblings in foster care together by assisting with the additional pay for those with therapeutic needs and providing the same payment for those without the need for additional support.  The bill would also create the Children Belong with Families Act, which creates a division under the Department of Human Services (DHS) to aid in decreasing the amount of homeless youth in the state.  This has become a growing problem in recent years and the hope is that early intervention will help reduce the percentages with homelessness.
 
The second bill, House Bill 2332, creates the Model Successful Future Alumni Act, which provides the opportunity for current foster children to work as advocates within the child welfare system under the guidance of DHS.  In addition, DHS would coordinate with the Commissioner of Labor to provide opportunities for gainful employment of program participants, giving preference to program participants with disabilities.
 
Both bills were authored by Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-Oklahoma City. We appreciate her willingness to listen to the ideas and experiences of our advocates and to use those to help guide her policy-making.
 
We would also like to highlight the work of Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa with House Bill 1022, which improves upon the Trauma-informed Care Task Force created last year.  HB 1022 codifies the effort in making recommendations on the development of a statewide approach to preventing adverse childhood experiences and to identify interventions and supports for children who have, or are at risk of, experiencing trauma. The measure adds six lawmakers to the current 17-member task force, and also includes two appointments by Governor Stitt. One of the governor’s appointments must be an officer or director of an association located in a rural area that identifies and promotes the development of a qualified workforce to support the emotional development of infants, toddlers and families. The second must be a representative of a private foundation that provides funding for early childhood initiatives.  This bill passed out of committee last week and we are excited that it will strengthen efforts to reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences in Oklahoma.
 
I am also pleased with initial ideas brought forth by Governor Kevin Stitt and First Lady Sarah Stitt in this area.  Proposals have been presented for children’s initiatives such as a cabinet-level position working directly with Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives. These are the kinds of things that give me hope we will improve our state for the next generation. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is looking forward to working with all of our policymakers for presenting better opportunities for Oklahoma’s youth!