For The Children Weekly Column

School-based Human Services Support a Vital Need in Oklahoma Communities

July 24, 2023

“For the Children” Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, OICA CEO


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

Telephone: (405) 833-1117


OKLAHOMA CITY – I recently had the pleasure of visiting a program in Tahlequah, Okla., geared toward support of families experiencing great needs.

The innovative way in which they are locally dealing with societal issues in a preventative manner, with support from a state agency and federal grant dollars, is something which should be modeled not only around our state, but across the nation.

Under the direction of recently retired Human Services Director and Cabinet Secretary Justin Brown, the agency shifted away from the model of having “bricks and mortar” offices and instead had workers in various community locations.

One of those created is within public schools to place workers close to those young Oklahomans who might be in the care of the Department of Human Services, but also to assist those who might be on the verge of being removed from families and placed into the foster care system.

From the state website, “The School-Based Services Program is a contractual and collaborative partnership between OKDHS and local school districts. Through the partnership, a School-Based Specialist (SBS) is placed in the school with the dedicated purpose of providing a human service connection and support to the children and families served by the school, as well as the school’s teachers and administrators.”

Additionally, from Human Services, “the SBS connects students and their families to local and state resources that can offer help and hope for the family. This compassionate and professional support helps students navigate out-of-classroom obstacles that would affect their success in the classroom and allows teachers to focus on teaching. The SBS makes a significant impact on the well-being of their communities, improving outcomes and reducing risk factors for the students and families they serve.”

While there was debate on whether closing local offices with close access for families was best, I can attest from seeing firsthand that the school-based worker model implemented has been a tremendous success.

While visiting this program, I saw what the Human Services employee and the additional school support staff who work on this program under grants acquired have been able to do to positively impact the lives of many families there.

The program model embeds a Human Services caseworker in the school site, and the school pays half of the cost of that worker to be there. Tahlequah has successfully found grants that provide for the additional, much-needed employees under this program, to elevate the year-round work and provide support where for these students and their families.

They have also provided a food pantry with a backpack program to send food home with children in need thanks to donations from community businesses. In addition, they have developed a supplies closet to provide essentials, including clothing and shoes, to students who do not have adequate things at home.

The team of workers will often go to the homes of those students and aid the families with applying for assistance, which provides a trusted local instead of an unknown face who might not have the same trust. Through this program, the school and Human Services are getting ahead of the issue and trying to find help before it gets to the point that a child might be removed from a family.

This preventative type of work is exactly what we need more of to help families find support that is available but might not be known to these struggling parents. I hope that this program will continue to grow in the agency and with public schools around the state as this innovative model is filling an unmet need in communities.