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For the Children- Feb. 13, 2017

Is Your Glass Half Full?

I try to be a “glass half-full” kind of person, but there are times when parts of your world can wear you down.  We all experience this to some extent, but it is how you deal with these situations that determines the outcome and impact on your own life and those around you. Far too many children in Oklahoma experience negative circumstances which can change the course of their entire lives.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy asked Dr. Jennifer Hays-Grudo serve as the keynote speaker on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) for our annual KIDS COUNT Conference.  Dr. Hays-Grudo discussed the results of studies across the United States with children 17 and under and the trauma associated with their childhood.  Not surprisingly, of the categories tested, Oklahoma ranked at the top with the highest percentage of children experiencing childhood trauma that followed them into adulthood. You can view slides from her presentation at www.oica.org/conference for more details.

We face a generational cycle of trauma which simply will not be fixed overnight.  Our 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book showed slight improvement from recently collected statistics, so we must not backtrack.  There is far more work needed to continue solutions within the Oklahoma State Capitol and the various agencies, as well as neighborhoods and communities.

As work carries on to improve the lives of kids, we cannot lose focus on what polices should endure to give these children the fighting chance to lead a normal, productive life. This includes adequate funding to hire the right personnel to deal with the day-to-day care of these children, along with the proper programs in place to provide a way out of a vicious generational cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect. We must stay the course on efforts which will improve the lives of these at-risk kids.

The effort over the past several years to restructure how Oklahoma oversees treatment within state care and custody, a result of judicially-mandated action to clean up the problems, is continuing to adapt and grow.  I have no doubt the Oklahoma Fosters initiative to recruit new foster parents, the continued development of policy under the Pinnacle Plan to restructure foster care services, and the shift in mindset from punitive treatment to more rehabilitative management of children in the juvenile justice system will provide better opportunities for future generations.

It would be easy to see Oklahoma as a “glass half-empty” state when it comes to the treatment of kids, but we need to work for the positive, knowing the worthwhile challenge is making a difference for the children. While the effort might wear each of us down some days, we must remember the change we are pursuing for the better treatment of kids is worth the struggle. Whether you work directly in child services, or simply donate to help local youngsters with a positive experience, it truly does matter to those children impacted.  If you want to join our effort, visit oica.org for how to get involved.


For the Children- Jan. 23, 2017

The Women's March

On Saturday, January 21, more than five million women gathered in various locations around the world at over 670 planned marches.  The intent was to show the new leaders elected in our government that women of all ages are a strong force, and issues of importance – equality, health care, race, issues with disabilities, and sexual assault – are topics that need more positive attention through policy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy also works in partnership to address these challenges for our youngest residents.

The rally which I attended in Oklahoma City was a gathering of men and women from different parts of the state.  Those assembled were very happy with the turnout, estimated by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at between 12,000 to 14,000 participants.

There are different types of events meant to inspire change, ranging from marches, to protests, to riots.  Marches are intended to be peaceful demonstrations to promote a cause.  Protests are gatherings to encourage action, but usually with an anger associated with that effort.  Riots are full-scale outbreaks of criminal activity which lead to arrests and upheaval.  A good contrast to Oklahoma City’s peaceful, constructive rally would be the riots that occurred in Washington, D.C. surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration.  Those riots led to more than 230 arrests, property damage and persons injured.  The very next day, thankfully, more than 500,000 people marched in the same city with not a single arrest. The riots were counterproductive and destructive; the peaceful rallies and protests are continuing to spark a productive dialogue.

As that dialogue continues, I hope that both sides will work on improving the way they communicate with each other. Even at peaceful rallies, which were filled with well-meaning people, the use of vulgar language on some of the signs was off-putting and unnecessary.  In addition, many children were in attendance. To get these young folks active in inspiring better policies through activism is vital.  Those who carried ill-mannered signs need to understand this hurts these young people by associating politics and civic engagement with cynicism and vulgarity. Protesting in this manner also gives the other side more cause to refuse to come to the middle for the dialogue.

That being said, I do believe the overall message, especially from the marches in Oklahoma, was extremely positive, genuine and much-needed.  There are just as many people uneasy about this current administration as there were eight years ago from the opposite political spectrum in the Tea Party.  Both that effort and this current one demonstrated to those concerned there are others with similar views and they are not alone, even though it sometimes feels that way.  That part of the healing process will be important going forward, but only if positive actions follow.

Some have criticized these marches, but this goes to one of the core principles of our nation to allow people to peacefully assemble and hold their government accountable for better policies.

If the participants of these marches truly decide to pursue that necessary effort to influence policymakers, our nation could become more like what they championed. Better yet, the children who attended might not only initiate their own positive activism someday, but will hopefully live in the world which was promoted in the more positive messages delivered on Saturday.

If you want to join us in this effort, sign up at oica.org to volunteer!

 

For the Children- Jan. 20, 2017

We need your help for the children!

Through my years of public service, I felt there was no mission greater than working to improve the lives of children.  I was dedicated to improving our state for these Oklahomans as a lawmaker.  I am now honored to serve you in my new role as CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, a non-profit organization that oversees youth-related state policies and programs. I say “serve you” as I know you agree with how important it is to support the future of Oklahoma. OICA will be diligent at the Capitol in serving as a watchdog over our state lawmakers and agencies while providing a voice for Oklahoma youth and families.

With an enormous state budget shortfall and many new faces in our legislature, it has never been more critical to build a strong, effective, persistent, and well-informed statewide network of child advocates to ensure our legislators are taking action on correct priorities. Your support, whether it be dollars donated or hours volunteered, means OICA will be present at the Oklahoma State Capitol and can equip advocates with facts and statistics from our soon-to-be published KIDS COUNT Data Book: 2016 Summary. For example, in our state, nearly one million of our residents are children, aged 17 or younger. Of that one million:

  • 1 out of every 3 children lives in a family where no parent has full-time, year round employment.

  • 1 in 4 children is food insecure, not knowing when their next meal will be.

  • 1 in 5 children lives in poverty, with 1 out of every 10 living in extreme poverty.

  • 1 in 10 children has one or both parents incarcerated during their childhood.

These numbers – and the real-life situations of the tens and hundreds of thousands of children they represent – are unacceptable! The Annie E. Casey Foundation and donors like you make this book possible for our advocates. Equipped with this information, our allies will make a difference in shaping policy.
To be prepared for this battle for the children of Oklahoma, we need your help! We need you to join us with a financial contribution at www.oica.org/donate orvolunteer as an advocate to help support our fight!

With your support, OICA will provide critical policy updates with our Oklahoma Kids Legislative Analysis. This email update, prepared by our team at OICA, will show timely information during the legislative session regarding bills impacting children and families in Oklahoma. For the Children, a weekly column written by myself or members of our board, will center on issues regarding children and families in our state. Sign up to receive this update directly through your email at www.oica.org

Please support OICA by making a tax-deductible donation of $1,000, $500, $250, $100, $50, $25, or any amount to help with the critical oversight and the distribution of information to advocates.  

You can make a credit card donation online through our secure server or by mailing a check to:

The Institute for Child Advocacy

3800 N. Classen Blvd, Suite 230 

Oklahoma City, OK 73118

Thank you for joining us in this very important cause! Best wishes to you and your loved ones in 2017 as we work together for better days ahead for the children of Oklahoma!


 

For the Children- Jan. 2, 2017

Resolve to Help Oklahoma's Children in 2017

I hope each of you have had the happiest of holidays!  There were many complaints regarding 2016, but I am thankful for many of the personal and professional changes in my life and look forward to the great opportunities we will see in the New Year.

I was fortunate to see family and friends over the break.  I was especially delighted with the Christmas gift from my mother.  When I opened it, I found a pair of brand new work gloves.  While this might not seem like much, I immediately knew the significance.  I recognized the brand as the same type my father used before he passed away.  This was the last pair of gloves he bought and was not able to use. This led to my resolution for 2017 – keep fighting for better opportunities for kids in Oklahoma.  

My dad worked in construction his entire adult life before he became severely injured in a truck accident soon after I was born. Even with this slowing him, he still did what work he could around our home and by helping our neighbors.  He even attended small engine classes at the local career technology center to learn more about how to repair lawn mowers so he could tinker in his garage.  There are not many days when I do not think of him and what he did to help others, and that certainly helped shape me as a person.  

He and my mom made certain I studied hard and was active in school programs, such as 4-H and Scouts. I was fortunate that it was their involvement in my life which made a world of difference for me. This led me to public service, both as an elected official and running the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, a non-profit aimed at improving the lives of children.  

At OICA, we will soon unveil the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a document which contains statistics on where Oklahoma ranks in categories impacting the children of our state and the nation. Thanks goes to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the entity which funds this effort in all 50 states so people are aware of their ranking and what efforts are needed to improve conditions. You can check out our mission at oica.org and soon see the digital version of KIDS COUNT. Most importantly, you can also sign up to volunteer in our effort for a better Oklahoma.  

It will be the work of OICA and our many partner organizations which will make a difference in educating policymakers during the upcoming legislative session, and we need you to be involved.  

I might not be doing the same type of labor as my father, but the work he and my mom helped prepare me for will continue to make a difference in the lives of others.  I know my dad would be proud that the gloves he owned will be in my office reminding me of my resolution to improve our state for the children.  

 

For the Children- Dec. 19, 2016

For Some, It is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The holidays are often a time to rejoice, but some do not share the joyful feelings of the season. The shorter days of winter can bring a gloomy mood and the hype of the holidays can set unrealistic expectations, especially for youngsters.

Children may feel sad or anxious around December for many reasons, including added stress from splitting time between divorced parents, coping with the recent loss of a loved one, or issues surrounding school.

Adults need to be attentive to signs displayed by children.  It is also important for grown-ups to be cognizant of how their own stressful actions might impact youngsters.

To help kids cope with this sadness, Dr. Elizabeth McCauley, interim director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has offered advice on ways to lessen holiday stress.

Dr. McCauley advised adult family members to include children in planning activities, to help set realistic expectations for holiday events. Kids can become disappointed when things do not live up to what they’ve imagined, which can trigger sadness.  Involving the kids in the planning can help manage their expectations.

She also encouraged adults to establish goals which fit budgetary constraints. Open conversations about the hype of the season versus reality are healthy. Acknowledge if the family is not able to take a special trip or purchase certain gifts.

Dr. McCauley also recommended instituting some structure into the season by making advance plans.

Transitioning from school to the break can be difficult for children who are used to a routine. Structure is preferable for many and often reduces stress.  Knowing what is planned lets youngsters understand what will be happening and be prepared.  Planning things they enjoy, also reduces their stress.

Depression is a problem that many individuals face at this time of year, including young people. Depression is the most common mental health problem in the U.S. according to McCauley. Recent reports indicate that depression affects 17 million people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds annually. As many as one in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as one in eight.

Depression can occur for many reasons – family conflict, school pressures, or problems with peers. For parents, it’s important to be able to differentiate when a child is feeling a little blue versus experiencing depression.

Signs and symptoms of depression in children and teens include: sadness or feeling irritable, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, eating too much or too little, weight changes, sleeping too much or too little, feeling tired a lot, feeling guilty, trouble thinking or paying attention, or suicidal thoughts or behavior.

The best advice for overcoming the seasonal blues is to spend time talking with and listening to kids. Anticipating their potential struggles can help make the holiday season enjoyable for the children, as well as the rest of the family.

May this season be bright for all of you from everyone at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy!


For the Children- Dec. 5, 2016

The 2017 Legislative Session Holds Promise for New Opportunities

The battle to improve the circumstances of Oklahoma’s children is largely fought in the Legislature, where lawmakers will  appropriate funds and create policies which impact education, health, foster care and other areas that directly effect kids.

 Regardless of one’s political preferences, successful advocacy hinges on understanding the political environment at our State Capitol.

 Today, that environment is driven by two main forces: the increase in numbers of the Republican policymakers and  legislative turnover created by term limits.

 In the State House, Republicans gained four seats, meaning they now control that chamber with a supermajority of 75 members, compared to 26 elected Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans held onto 42 of the 48 seats. According to Ballotpedia, Oklahoma is one of 31 "trifecta government" states with one-party control over the executive and legislative branches. In these states, twenty-five are controlled by Republicans and six by Democrats.

Just as important to understanding the make up of the Legislature is recognizing the startling number of new faces who will join the House and Senate in 2017. In the Oklahoma State Senate, 13 new members took the oath of office out of the 48 member legislative body. In the House, 32 new representatives were elected from the 101 member body. That means almost 1/3 of our lawmakers will be “freshmen” legislators attempting to learn basic parliamentary procedure, grapple with new responsibilities and political realities, all while trying to drive a constructive policy agenda. With such a large group of new members, groups like OICA will need to work doubly hard to educate lawmakers about the challenges and problems facing many of Oklahoma’s children.

It was in this context that I was happy to join Rep. Leslie Osborn, R – Mustang, last weekend on Your Vote Counts, a segment held each week on News 9 in Oklahoma City. You can find the link on News9’s website (http://m.news9.com/Video.aspx?clipId=12942517&catId=112037).  

The discussion ranged from the mission of OICA to what to expect from the new leadership team, in which Rep. Osborn will play a significant role.  We both were optimistic with might occur to alleviate the decrease in revenue collections and new laws passed by policymakers regarding the budget.  From modifications to tax credits and exemptions, to the discussion for an increase in the Oklahoma tobacco tax, the 149 legislators and our governor will have some tough decisions to make for the best interest of our state.

Speaker-elect McCall and Pro Tempore-elect Schulz will need strong leaders in the various appropriations chair positions and should do everything in their power to include the various perspectives from around the state who have been designated by their districts to be the voices for each at the capitol.  I have been impressed with the willingness to delve deeper into the budgets of the larger agencies at this early stage. Speaker Larry Adair during the revenue shortfalls faced in his tenure charged his committee with reviewing agency budgets from the greatest to the smallest.  This resulted in a balanced budget which was submitted to Gov. Brad Henry.  I am seeing similar willingness from this newer, younger leadership team.  I hope this spirit will continue through policy decisions and the best interests for the children of Oklahoma in the new laws considered beginning in February with the new session.