What ideas do you have to better the lives of Oklahoma’s children?
Oklahoma falls short in so many ways when it comes to caring for our future. About a quarter of kids in Oklahoma are living in poverty resulting in limited access to resources, particularly food resources. If our kids are not having basic needs met, we cannot expect educational or personal success for our young people. When an agriculturally rich state like Oklahoma has so many food deserts, we have a delivery and affordability problem. By financially supporting community feeding programs coordinated through regional state offices, schools, non-profits, and other community organizations, we can begin to address childhood food insecurity that results in poor educational, health, and behavioral outcomes. School breakfast and lunch programs should be supported not just through the school year but through summer as well. Community gardens that distribute fresh produce to Oklahomans should also be encouraged for better health outcomes.
In addition to feeding programs, we must target the economic reality of under-employment in Oklahoma. Many families with children living in poverty are the working poor, engaged in jobs that are less than full time or pay wages too low to fully meet their needs. We need target job creation and wage expansion in Oklahoma to allow parents to earn enough. Employers that pay living wages should be incentivized. Access to affordable childcare should also be improved as up to 30% of families headed by single women are food insecure. Hunger is a problem that requires comprehensive solutions from economic, community, health, education, and social perspectives.
What have you done to support children prior to this election?
Prior to this election, my husband and I became an ICWA compliant foster home specifically requesting older teens to assist in their transition from high school to college or career. We knew that there were and still are many kids in the foster system that need quality placement and support but due to lack of enough foster or adoptive homes, a lot of teens age out of the system and fall through the cracks. Making the transition to legal adulthood without appropriate supports in place can result in detrimental outcomes for aged-out foster youth including homelessness and contact with the criminal justice system.
In addition to fostering, I have had the opportunity to work on a tribal-state agreement for Native foster youth in my role as an attorney for one of the Five Civilized tribes in Oklahoma. I also have volunteered for schools in every school district I have lived in, from being a reading buddy for elementary students in Stillwater while in college, participating in Law Day and a mock trial for elementary students in Norman while in law school, volunteering as a tutor, serving as a school trip chaperone, and voting to support every bond issue for Jenks Schools since moving to the district. I am also proud to have joined our teachers and public education supporters at the Capitol in April to advocate for better school funding, first as a supporter of all the educators and children in my family and then as a Woman In Black/Girl Attorney.
What will you do to support families in your new role, if elected?
To support families in Oklahoma, we should support policies that will keep families together and allow them to be supported. We should invest in diversion programs that allow parents who are involved in the criminal justice system to be held accountable but also participate in programs that allow them to avoid incarceration while accessing treatment or resources to allow them to become self-reliant and care for their families. We know as the #1 incarcerator of women in the world, (and now people overall in the US) that when women go to prison, families are more likely to be split up. That means poorer outcomes and a greater burden on state services.
Further, mental health services have to be wildly improved in Oklahoma. The devolution in the family structure when a parent or child is experiencing chronic or crisis mental health issues is striking. Lack of access to treatment options can result in self-medication by illicit substances (directly contributing to issues like the opioid crisis), employment and education disruptions, and failure to provide adequate self-care or care for dependents. Oklahoma fails in providing sufficient regular and crisis mental health services from counseling to medication to addiction treatment to in-patient crisis management. We have to do better. Mandating insurance coverage for mental health, encouraging more mental health providers to locate throughout Oklahoma and by facilitating low-cost or free access services, we can support the de-stigmatization of mental health issues and encourage people to address their mental health needs head on.