Ensuring History Does Not Repeat Itself for Children

Tuesday, 21 May 2024 07:32

Ensuring History Does Not Repeat Itself for Children Featured

Written by Joe Dorman, OICA CEO
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) recently held our annual Tulsa event, and it was a ringing success. Our team organized a viewing of a trailer for a new documentary being produced called “Broken” which examines the state child welfare system in Massachusetts.

Through the reporting of Brooke Lewitas, and the production work of Bill Lichtenstein, this deep dive into concerns impacting children in the system and with what is happening to their families, both biological and foster; it is a shocking reminder of the need for improved services for young people.

Oklahoma had a similar history with this going back to statehood, with the change eventually brought about by a lawsuit against the state in the early 1980s. The “Terry D Lawsuit” was named for the first teenage plaintiff of seven to sign on to the suit brought by Legal Aid of Western Oklahoma and the lead attorney, Steven Novick.

The legal action, along with the coverage of the conditions faced by children, motivated advocates to demand changes to better take care of these youth. Mr. Lichtenstein was one of the producers from the ABC Television news magazine “20/20” who worked on the nearly year-long investigation into Lloyd Rader, the Department of Human Services Director of that time. The coverage showed what Rader’s agency was doing, often harming children far worse than the conditions they faced before being taken into custody. We watched this segment, the first time it has been shown in 40 years.

Mr. Lichtenstein collaborated with local reporters from KOCO-TV in the Oklahoma City media market that delivered continuous local coverage, and the newspaper, The Muskogee Phoenix, which ran multiple investigative stories into the system.

Through the lawsuit, the media attention and the advocates working for change, political pressure was finally enough to see change occur. Over that time, the conditions which children face have dramatically improved, to the point that the number of children entering foster care has been cut in half, and the youth who in the care of the Office of Juvenile Affairs are now receiving true rehabilitation and educational services. Oklahoma is practicing hope-centered and trauma-informed work which provides wraparound services for the children and their families. We heard as much from the panel of experts who discussed the positive work happening, including the work done by the Ending the Need for Group Placement (ENGP) effort which is seeking improvements in services offered.

During the event, OICA honored several Oklahomans who have contributed to the improvements we see. Our Jari Askins Justice for Children award was presented to Judge Michael Flanagan for chairing the Supreme Court program reviewing needed changes to the system. Our Burnes/Lichtenstein Award for Excellence in Journalism was presented to Terri Watkins, Bill Gallagher, Carlton Sherwood, and John Hanchette for their work in covering the “Terry D” lawsuit. Our CEO’s Service Award was given to George Krumme for support of our educational programs offered to students. Each of these individuals has played a significant role in seeing better for Oklahomans.

Much is still needed though. The Oklahoma Legislature must step up in the final days of the regular session, which must end by 5 p.m. on Friday, May 31, and fund state services and pass the programs which will create better opportunities for children.

At the top of that list is providing better childcare services for Oklahomans. There is legislation which will provide incentives for employers to assist with support, and the funding is needed to kickstart daycares into reopening across the state. Please call your lawmakers and ask them to provide these necessary funds and policy change.

 

About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”

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