The state of Oklahoma is facing a $900 million budget shortfall, and legislators have stated that “everything is on the table” when it comes to closing the gap and balancing the budget. While I am hopeful that “everything” includes reasonable revenue raising measures and a hard look at corporate tax credits and tax breaks, I also know this will require some spending cuts. That means there will be no shortage of agencies or organizations explaining why their mission should not be on the chopping block.

You can count on the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy to champion for adequate funding for children’s health care, the foster care system, and poverty prevention measures. If we do not invest in our children, our future looks bleak, and a tough budget year is no excuse for neglecting our state’s vulnerable youngsters.

However, we also recognize that a tough budget year means we need programs and policy solutions that can achieve success at little or no additional cost. Most often, those efforts require partnerships between the public and private sectors, outside-the-box thinking, and a lot of hard work. One of them, I am proud to say, is jointly spearheaded by OICA and Sunbeam Family Services.

A few years ago, a collaboration of organizations serving children in central Oklahoma decided to work together to find ways to increase awareness of the needs of Oklahoma kids.  The Count Me in For Kids (CMI4K) collaborative meets quarterly to discuss the work of its many members and find ways to build a stronger, unified effort.  On behalf of CMI4K, the two aforementioned members applied for a grant from The Oklahoma Group to identify the most pressing needs of children, pinpoint gaps in services, and isolate duplication of mission.  This grant project will work with the Oklahoma Group, a collection of hyper-smart OU business school students who provide proficient consulting to Oklahoma non-profits at no cost, to achieve these goals.

The northeastern part of the state has had a great collaborative for many years under the guidance of the foundations located in that region, but there has not been a similar effort through the rest of the state.  The first phase will look at central Oklahoma for an analysis, while the next anticipated phase will reach into the different corners of rural Oklahoma to identify services and effectively meet the needs of children impacted by these programs, no matter where they reside.

I will certainly keep you posted as this effort goes forward.  I want to thank those involved for their help in developing this grant, the students who will put in tremendous hours to compile the data for the guide, and the many non-profits and organizations which will help us work together to streamline this availability of information. Together, I am confident we will be able to improve access to help for the children of Oklahoma through these private organizations and our state government.

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