The 2021 Children’s Legislative Agenda
Based on Discussions at the 2020 OICA Fall Forum – Alice through the Virtual Looking Glass
The 2020 Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) Fall Forum was a gathering of almost two hundred of Oklahoma’s most passionate child advocates. Specifically focusing on how technology has adapted to allow child advocates to continue their work, OICA assembled workshop presenters and breakout session leaders to discuss issues facing the children of Oklahoma and encourage assembled advocates to find policy solutions to these problems. Experts from a wide array of policy leaders, including state agency employees, foster care workers, summer food program professionals, mental health specialists, concerned citizens, and legislators were in attendance via Zoom for our four-day review into issues impacting Oklahoma’s children. Discussions at Fall Forum touched on a range of children’s issues, including but not limited to:
Modernization and technology usage for child advocates;
Economic challenges facing Oklahoma families;
Student health and well-being; and
Health care and insurance issues.
Highlights of the conference were discussions of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) from the Trauma-informed Care Task Force created by the Fallin Administration to review state agency procedures in dealing with childhood traumatic event and subsequent policies, efforts to increase legal assistance to Oklahomans in rural areas dealing with children’s issues, ways in which the state is helping protect young Oklahomans from cyber-sex crimes, and concerns from health care providers regarding sufficient action to protect against the further spread of COVID-19.
Many thanks to all workshop presenters who informed our attendees and the lawmakers who provided firsthand knowledge regarding the upcoming challenges we will likely face in the First Session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature, convening for regular business on February 1, 2021.
Modernization and technology usage for child advocates
It is important that Oklahoma recognizes and designs policies around the disparities faced by Oklahoma’s youngest. Whether it is racial disparity, socioeconomic status, or the rural-urban divide, it is the responsibility of policymakers to create a more equitable state, and adapting technology to meet these needs is critical. Therefore, the assembled delegates for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy’s Fall Forum recommend the following actions:
- Support the Stitt Administration’s current efforts to modernize state agencies in order to improve technology and better serve the public by providing easier access to online solutions.
- Promote digital partnerships between service agencies which create improved collaborative relationships for delivery of services.
- Support improvements for access to high speed internet and technology for families and business across all parts of Oklahoma.
- Implement improved purchasing options for technology for all levels of government to help reduce costs to taxpayers.
- Investigate possible grant programs to create more public/private grant support systems for eliminating hardships facing Oklahomans.
- Create needs-based support systems, such as hotlines and instructional videos, for Oklahomans facing issues.
- Tie core support agencies together for certain services, such as educational departments, local libraries and other systems to better deliver information to Oklahomans and support licensure of such programs with existing CARES Funds.
- Continue existing waivers for programs adequately delivering services via the Internet after the pandemic ends.
Economic challenges facing Oklahoma families
One can accept the difficult budget situation we face in the coming session, but it is important to also consider making long-term investments in children and families. By funding preventive and supportive services, lawmakers and agency leaders can make the budget better in future years by reducing costs of treatment, such as mental health and substance abuse services, prisons, foster care, and public assistance.
- Invest in young children and their families with available federal funds, rather than returning unused dollars.
- Increase state funding for child care subsidies, home visiting, and family resource centers with existing federal funds, therefore recognizing each one of these is an affordable investments with very high payoffs in the future.
- Provide sufficient funding and attention to families of children with disabilities, including the DDSD waiting list.
- Examine support systems for foster families to ensure benefits provided are sufficient to meet needs.
- Gradually increase the state earned income tax credit (EITC) and make it affordable so that low income families have that one-time source of income for car repairs, to pay debts, or to buy something for their kids.
- Eliminated preemption laws regarding minimum wages for local control, and gradually increase the state minimum wage to stay competitive with other states.
- Extend the time period in which participants in Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) work programs can be enrolled in school so that parents can finish degrees and acquire the incomes that come with education that’s tailored to their needs, aptitudes, and interests.
- Create incentives to increase the amount of affordable housing, such as allocating a percentage of Low Income Housing Tax Credits for programs allowing those under 21 to rent.
- Increase landlord-tenant repair cap from $100 to one-half of monthly rental payments.
- Protect funding for preventive measures, such as services that provide home education and support for families.
- Continue to implement common-sense criminal justice reform measures which reduce unnecessary incarceration and review fines and fees placed on Oklahomans to reduce overly-punitive financial constraints.
Student Health and Educational Well-being
Classroom success is a strong indicator of future achievement. With so many schools currently operating through distance learning, Oklahoma policymakers must accept the challenge to implement policies to safely return schools to in-person learning, but only if it is safe according to science-based health protocols. If Oklahoma is to attain a “Top 10” status, the state must make educational achievement one of our top priorities. To wit, OICA recommends the following education and early childhood development reforms:
- Support school counseling services offered with collaborative partnerships using multi-tiered systems of support by providing proper incentives and reimbursement, along with breaking down barriers for providing services.
- Reduce the amount of in-school and out-of-school suspensions by implementing distance learning procedures to help avoid the loss of instructional time by the student.
- Oppose any legislation which would reduce the age of school suspensions for any extended period of time, especially without prior counseling to determine what has happened to the student to cause them to act out.
- Ensure teacher-education programs are sufficient to meet the needs faced by digital transformation of schooling.
- Implement policies to ensure emergency-certified teachers have appropriate instruction on how to handle classroom issues, such as possible teacher/emergency certified teacher mentorships.
- Adopt common-sense policies and laws to help improve mental and physical fitness of students, such as increased physical education time, but while still avoiding issues of body-shaming.
- Grow the Department of Humans Services school-based service worker program.
- Promote reform within the educational system that creates better supports for youth in foster care and for foster families.
- Further advance the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s effort to increase the number of school counselors and additional trauma-informed training for teachers.
- Implement a common-sense statewide mask policy for in-person learning to better protect teachers, educational support personnel and families from the spread of COVID-19. Exemptions should be based on age and emotional levels of students, along with any special-needs issues which would affect the health of the students individually.
- Anticipate issues coming from isolation due to COVID-19 and better prepare students to overcome the setbacks they have faced, such as increased tutoring and emotional support once schools return to normal.
- Support improvements for access to high speed internet and technology for in-school learning and distance learning.
Healthcare and Insurance Improvements
With Oklahoma voters passing a constitutional mandate in 2020 to see enhancement of insurance coverage for the working poor, access to primary and preventive care, as well as mental health services, continues to be a major issue of concern. Medically underserved populations and rural areas across Oklahoma have limited access to primary care and preventive services. Without access to primary care treatment, individuals far too often must seek care from emergency rooms, which comes with increased cost, no continuity of care and poor long-term outcomes. To remedy these deficiencies, the following is recommended:
- Support the funding of Medicaid Expansion while also protecting core services that are important to children & families
- Support mechanisms in healthcare that improve outcomes for children & families
- Support incentives for healthcare providers to service rural areas
- Support the removal of unnecessary barriers for nurse practitioners and other medical professionals to practice their line of work
- Support initiatives to remove barriers to virtual care, such as telehealth & telemedicine services
- Work with agencies & the legislature to promote & support project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes) to empowers clinicians in rural and underserved communities to provide specialty care to more people right where they live.
- Support harm reduction legislation & promote de-stigmatization of such efforts
- Continue to support efforts to increase vaccination rates in the state
- Continue to support age-appropriate seatbelt usage