The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, the statewide organization that serves as the voice for the children of our state, assembled some of the brightest minds to discuss, collaborate and initiate an aggressive agenda for the First Regular Session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature.  In an effort to improve opportunities for the youth of Oklahoma, the assembled delegates for the 2018 OICA Fall Forum recommend the Legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt consider the following proposals.
 
Childhood Services – Childhood services programs are often administered through various agencies and provide support systems for youth, but further consideration should be discussed to streamline services, improve availability of information, and produce better results for those clients impacted by these programs.  The assembled delegates of the Fall Forum request lawmakers do a thorough review of existing programs and improve accessibility through the following ideas:
•         Enhance the Trauma-informed Care Task Force with additional legislative and regional membership;
•         Continue support of the Pinnacle Plan under the Department of Human Services;
•         Build a state support network with adequate funding for child abuse prevention services;
•         Ensure a statewide presence is available for increasing awareness of preventative services;
•         Implement an integrated service data system for all state youth services in Oklahoma;
•         Initiate a task force to study Title I fund usage for trauma-informed services;
•         Utilize State Department of Education funds to support a service for school-based social workers and increase the number of school counselors available;
•         Create a system to allow youth in foster care to open bank accounts and increase opportunities for financial literacy and other programs to assist with adult transition from foster care;
•         Protect evidence-based services by prioritizing and incentivizing such programs;
•         Create a Complete Count Commission to ensure an accurate count of Oklahomans for the 2020 Census;
•         Increase mental health service access in under-served locations by utilizing mobile facilities;
•         Strengthen Education Induction programs;
•         Improve collaborative efforts between tribal nations and the state for access to information regarding youth issues where both parties are involved;
•         Increase funding for early childhood education and other such services through partnerships with private sector foundations in proven programs which deliver results; and
•         Create incentives for “Family Centers” by increasing resources to senior wellness centers that would like to provide intergenerational programs.
•         Work with DHS to ensure that youth with child welfare involvement are assessed uniformly statewide so that their needs are understood and can be addressed in the most efficient and effective manner.
 
 
Healthcare – The health and wellness of Oklahomans remains a critical concern for quality and length of life as well as costs associated with workforce, ability to learn and various safety concerns.  The discussion resulting from the 2018 OICA Fall Forum produced the following requests for improvements for health care:
•         Consider options to receive all available federal funding to improve access to health care in Oklahoma, as well as implement provisions to retain hospitals and other facilities that provide care in underserved communities;
•         Retain services which support efforts to reduce suicide, such as hotlines and counselors;
•         Improve access to psychiatric care across Oklahoma;
•         Establish a program to increase foster parent involvement to assist with reunification process for biological families;
•         Implement services to assist families facing conditions, such as autism and dyslexia;
•         Retain availability and encourage vaccinations which will provide safer classrooms for Oklahoma’s youth;
•         Decrease the backlog for the Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD) Waiting List;
•         Establish an Early Childhood Education Savings Plan like the Oklahoma College Savings Plan to allow investors to support young Oklahomans;
•         Encourage awareness to healthy lifestyles which will help reduce Oklahoma’s obesity and diabetes rate; and
•         Promote programs to reduce the opioid abuse epidemic facing our state.
 
Prevention Education – Prevention programs, often the first item cut during tough budgets, are the resource that help overcome generational issues.  The assembled delegates for the OICA Fall Forum call upon policymakers to prioritize preventative programs as an area that should be sustained and protected to help reduce long-term concerns impacting future generations.  Suggestions from the delegates are as follows:
•         Seek additional funding for home visitation programs through the Oklahoma State Department of Health, such as the Parents as Teachers program, Children First/Nurse-family Partnership and SafeCare);
•         Create an organized broad-based coalition to inform the state agencies about existing federal programs which could provide additional support;
•         Incorporate evidence-based curriculum regarding healthy lifestyle choices in schools and age-appropriate grade levels;
•         Enhance requirements for trauma-informed care resources for programs which supervise students outside of school settings;
•         Increase access to quality training under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for foster families and homeless youth, social workers and school employees;
•         Create an online child abuse & neglect identification and reporting training for schools, which includes passage of statutory language to allow schools to legally do fingerprint background checks for school volunteers;
•         Provide assistance to after-school programs through a block grant system;
•         Restore five-day school weeks for schools; and
•         Increase public-private partnerships for quality alternative child care for children on extended school breaks.
 
Criminal Justice Reform – Oklahoma has the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in incarceration rates. The impact of the over-incarceration crisis directly impacts young Oklahomans, as children of incarcerated parents are six to seven times more likely to go to prison themselves. OICA supports holding criminals accountable, especially violent criminals or those who victimize children; however, too many non-violent offenders are imprisoned in Oklahoma. Criminal justice reform has made major strides in Oklahoma and OICA recommends building on that momentum by taking the following steps:    
•         Specify guidelines for possession with intent to distribute;
•         Invest in all forms of treatment for those incarcerated;
•         Consider intermediate sanctions facilities and revocations, with potential partnership through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
•         Elimination or restructuring of the cash bail system for misdemeanors and felonies, with consideration into risk of flight;
•         Transitional facility opportunities with public/private partnerships for youth in the care of the Office of Juvenile Affairs or Child Welfare as they leave the state system;
•         Creation of a long-range strategic planning task force with concerned parties involved to meet year-round and make recommendations to the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Stitt.
 
Poverty, Transportation and Housing Barriers – Access to affordable housing and transportation, or lack thereof, are major drivers of poverty.  Residents in rural areas face a critical shortfall of accessible housing and the ability to commute to work should a worker not have a personal vehicle.  These issues, often tied to affordability and a living wage, determine the outcome opportunities for future generations when a stable home life is not present.  The committee assembled recommends these ideas:
•         The Legislature and the Governor should restore the refundable portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit which had been previously eliminated;
•         Eliminate the state preemption of minimum wage increases in Oklahoma communities;
•         The state should consider a preferential bid enhancement for winners of contract bids that have a wage rate that exceeds the current state minimum wage;
•         Increase opportunities for available emergency shelters across the state with caseworkers assisting those in need;
•         Modernize the Landlord Tenant Act to reflect current costs;
•         Review eviction laws to ensure fairness for all parties;
•         Consider a capped rate for utility deposits for low-income renters; and
•         Implement a plan for state support of renters who are minors with an open case before the state.
•         Work with city and county governments to improve access to public transportation, especially as it relates to commuting to the workplace.