State Issue Initiatives

For over 30 years, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy has provided leadership to create and promote statewide issue initiatives addressing critical issues to improve the lives of children and families. These initiatives have included Smart Start Oklahoma, the state’s successful early childhood education initiative; the Oklahoma Afterschool Network, an initiative that provided resources for quality out-of-school time programs; the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition, a statewide effort to fight childhood obesity; Healthy Teens OK!, a source for information, research, and training related to effective teen pregnancy prevention; and Ready By 21: Oklahoma, an effort to that linked prevention with “asset-building” youth development strategies. Public and private sector partnerships and collaborations have guided these issue initiatives, creating awareness and providing resources that help communities across the state expand opportunities and improve outcomes for kids and their families.

Healthy Teens OK! www.healthyteensok.org

Oklahoma had the second highest (worst) teen birth rate in the nation for 15-19 year-olds in 2014, and the second highest for older teens, aged 18-19, who represent two-thirds of all teen births. The state’s teen birth rate for the school-aged population, aged 15-17, improved from 2013 to 2014, due to the expansion of evidence-based programs funded by Federal government replication grants.

At a glance:

  • The number of births to girls aged 19 and younger in Oklahoma has been reduced by nearly 40% between 2000 and 2014 due to evidence-based programs, dropping from 7,831 to 4,850 births, respectively.
  • The teen birth rate for ages 15-19 dropped by over one-third (35%) during that same period.
  • One out of every five teen births in our state is to a girl who is already a mother.
  • The costs and consequences of teen pregnancy and unprepared parenting impact an array of health, education, infant/early child development, poverty, employment, and a host of other issues in multiple, and most often negative, ways.

Though our state’s teen birth numbers and rates have been declining since the peak in 1991, following the national trend, they have remained among the worst in the nation. For over a decade, the State of Oklahoma has invested next to nothing in evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, effective adolescent health services, and community mobilization strategies that really work.  Bottom line: The good news about teen pregnancy prevention is happening at the community level, and at a state level – other states are getting better, faster!

For current teen birth factsheets and resources, click here.

Oklahoma After-school Network, an initiative that provides resources for quality out-of-school time programs; and the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition, a statewide effort that fights childhood obesity. The statewide issue initiatives create awareness and provide resources that help communities take action and change policy across the state.

Healthy Teens Oklahoma

healthy Teens logo

Oklahoma had the third highest (worst) teen birth rate in the nation for 15-19 year-olds in 2013, and the second highest for older teens, aged 18-19, the group that represents two-thirds of all teen births. Though our state’s teen birth numbers and rates have been declining since the peak in 1991, following the national trend, they have remained among the worst in the nation. Bottom line: other states have been focused on investing in prevention education programs, adolescent health services and community mobilization strategies that really work, thus have been getting better, faster.

Power Through Choices

On any given day, there are 500,000 children and youth in the foster care system, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national leader on child welfare issues. When these youth “age out” of the system they often do not possess the skills to thrive on their own.

Few public health, child welfare or juvenile services networks have addressed the critical need for relevant, high-quality, population-specific sexuality education for the youth in their care — many of whom are sexually active, have been victims of sexual abuse and whose life circumstances place them at high risk for STIs, teen pregnancy and sexual exploitation.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, males and females in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant than their non-system involved peers. Almost half of girls in foster care have been pregnant at least once by age 19 and nearly one-third have had at least one child before they reach age 20. When it comes to youth in foster care and the risk of unplanned pregnancy, the National Campaign states, “The statistics speak for themselves.”

The elevated risk has serious human and financial costs and consequences for the young people, their families and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems across our country. Helping these young people avoid STIs and unplanned pregnancy is a major public health, child welfare and juvenile services challenge that requires immediate attention and practical, effective solutions. Over the years, few resources have been identified to address this challenge effectively — with the exception of one curriculum, Power Through Choices (PTC). Designed with and for young people living in foster and other out-of-home care, PTC has demonstrated its effectiveness in meeting the specific needs of youth in the foster care and juvenile services systems through a rigorous evaluation conducted in multiple settings across the country. It is a solution ready for replication.

Chance for Success

For three decades, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy has informed and educated state policymakers and other citizens on the importance of investing wisely in children and families. OICA understands that when children thrive – our state thrives. In early 2016, the organization leveraged its ongoing partnership with the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs to create a state-wide education reform initiative called the Chance for Success Program.

Our vision for the program is to address the following issues: 1) improve teacher confidence; 2) offer specialized training and support for both students and teachers from renowned education specialists and academic coaches; and 3) provide college preparation curriculum and open-source materials for building classroom rigor. Our research shows that many existing programs focus change at either student behavior or classroom management, but rarely do these programs take a multi-pronged approach which includes both students and teachers as active stakeholder groups. By incorporating a comprehensive training and coaching program in which students and teachers must participate together, we are demonstrating the power of teamwork and cooperation, building trust between both parties.

Our target sites for 2016 include Crooked Oak Public Schools and Tecumseh Charter Schools. These schools are Title I and/or 100% free and reduced lunch with over 70% of students from underrepresented and underserved populations. We are requesting funding for the student-teacher training and coaching sessions facilitated by nationally-renowned education reformer, Bill Cathers with additional support for instructional and academic mentor coaches. In addition, we plan to develop curriculum for a college preparation math and science program with an open-source curriculum library to assist teachers increase the rigor of their classroom curriculum.

Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative

The Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative formed in late 2013 to begin identifying programmatic and policy needs to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. Research has shown poverty, low educational performance, mental illness and substance abuse issues are all directly linked to increased involvement of youth with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Studies also indicate a significant number of youth involved in the system are struggling with trauma associated with past abuse and neglect. All of these contributing factors are problems Oklahoma has long struggled to address and in which the state continues to rank among the worst in the nation.

The role of the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative is to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the arena of juvenile justice reform. The collaborative reviews research, analyzes data and makes recommendations for sound policies that support best practices and evidence-based interventions. The group is responsible for developing and implementing a long-term, comprehensive strategy aimed at improving public safety, lowering recidivism rates and enabling children to become healthy, productive adults.

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