For The Children Weekly Column

Mental Health Awareness and Opportunities for Advocates


Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117


January is Mental Wellness Awareness Month, at time to recognize the importance of attending to our own personal mental health, especially seeing the significant numbers of the population who deal with mental health issues and disorders, both personally and with loved ones.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, “emotional disturbances and substance abuse among children occur at alarming rates. About 10% of Oklahoma youth have a mental health disorder and an additional 10% have a substance abuse issue.”

They further note on their website, “according to the U.S. Surgeon General, children are best served by early intervention. Recent assessments find that more than 40% of the youth who need mental health services and 80% of youth who need substance abuse services are not receiving them. Without early and effective identification and interventions, childhood disorders can persist and lead to school failure, poor employment opportunities, poverty, and incarceration in adulthood.”

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy partners with many wonderful youth-serving organizations across the state which serve Oklahomans locally. In fact, I will soon visit Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers in Ardmore to tour their main facility and learn more about the work they do for those in need in the nine counties in southern Oklahoma which they serve.

From these collaborative partnerships, OICA learns about the mission of each and then carries their message to the Oklahoma State Capitol to share with policymakers the needs each face and what issues should be addressed to improve service delivery.

Two such ideas dealing with mental health were brought forth by advocates to lawmakers. Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan and Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa worked in the area of mental wellness last year. Senate Bill 254 dealt with ensuring out-of-network mental health coverage would not be charged at that higher rate compared to in-network costs when a patient needs immediate care, and also allows for telehealth services to be used when appropriate.

Likewise, Representative Boatman and Sen. John Haste, R-Tulsa, authored “Maria’s Law” in 2021. This legislation requires the Oklahoma State Board of Education to ensure that all schools provide instruction in mental health to help address the large percentage of youth experiencing issues. This law went into effect with the 2022-2023 school year.

While I often visit programs at their request, we also try to bring programs together. Many organizations share their ideas with each other through the events which OICA holds. Their ideas are often added to our annual legislative agenda. At the end of this month, our annual Legislative Learning Lab will assemble youth-serving organizations for a four-day conference about the legislative process and how to be more effective in communicating policy needs to lawmakers. The event beginning January 31 will be held three mornings over Zoom and one day in-person on February 1st in Oklahoma City at the headquarters of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. You can go to to register or learn more.

On March 12, we will hold our annual advocacy day, which is also the day of our chili cook-off among youth-serving organizations and advocates in the parking lot of the Oklahoma State Capitol. Entry for this is completely free for cooks and those wanting to sample chili while also learning about the different organizations. The link to register as a cook or to be a sponsor with your name printed on the event t-shirt is and each sponsor receives a complimentary shirt.

These events, while equally educational and entertaining, provide opportunities for networking and understanding. Please join us as we work for better policies for Oklahoma’s youth.