Child Welfare Task Force Makes Solid Recommendations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
OKLAHOMA CITY – Earlier this year, on the first day of his second term of office, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order forming the Child Welfare Task Force.
Former Human Services Cabinet Secretary Justin Brown led the 12-member task force. The membership was impressive, including current Human Services Director and Cabinet Secretary Dr. Deb Shropshire, Sen. Jessica Garvin, and Rep. Mark Lawson. The group completed its mission last week with the issuance of a 60-page report with suggested changes to improve the foster care system in Oklahoma.
Per the executive order, “one of a state’s most important responsibilities is to protect the lives and safety of its citizens. Paramount among these is protecting and enhancing the lives of our children. Some of the hardest and most challenging work that any state does is in child welfare. We must continue to meet this challenge head on.” We at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) wholeheartedly agree.
The Child Welfare Task Force identified five primary goals for the state, each with actionable recommendations:
- Expand resources and services to prevent families from entering the child welfare system.
- Evaluate and implement strategies for supporting and enhancing family engagement.
- Improve the effectiveness of the juvenile court system by enhancing stakeholder engagement.
- Increase support and strengthen the role of foster parents to reduce closure rates and placement disruptions.
- Expand the capacity of professionals that support families in the child welfare system.
Policy initiatives to make the recommendations a reality included:
- Developing protocols and systems for sharing information securely and efficiently between agencies, while maintaining privacy and confidentiality.
- Expanding school-based service workers to at-risk communities.
- Expanding and funding Medicaid benefits to 205% of the federal poverty level for biological parents with children in care or at-risk of being in care.
- Modernizing the state’s approach to individualized service plans.
- Developing a plan to implement parent, peer, and partner programs in at-risk communities.
- Executing the Family Representation and Advocacy Program across the state.
- Increasing financial support for foster families and improving respite support.
- Extending paid administrative leave for state employees who are foster parents when accepting a new child.
- Developing and providing specialized training for childcare providers for children and youth with complex needs, including trauma.
- Identifying and developing an approach to consistently train foster parent mentors throughout the state.
- Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate for outpatient behavioral health services for children and families in foster care, or at risk of entering foster care.
- Increasing the number of supporting staff, case aides, and child welfare assistants.
I was pleased to see the recognition of areas in great need of improvement, but also the awareness that those working in the foster care system are often doing the best that they can with limited resources. Much of the document suggests several ways to provide support to keep children from entering the system in the first place. Oklahoma has been one of the leading states for ensuring children do not re-enter the foster care system, but we also rank very poorly for children waiting too long for a permanency decision by the court system, connecting children either with their biological families or the home where they will be placed.
There is no question implementing this report will require a commitment to boost funding for many of these areas, but this investment will guarantee greater promise for children at risk in Oklahoma. We at OICA say, “Well done!” to the task force for their work and insight.