The holidays are usually a busy time at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and this year is no exception. We are working hard to make the OK Foster Wishes holiday gift drive a success, and we were excited to assign the last “wish list” submitted by a foster child to one of the thousands of Oklahomans who are donating to the effort. Our staff is not only charged with fulfilling over 4,000 of these wish lists, but also locating a warehouse space, generously loaned to us by Hobby Lobby, and running the distribution effort in Oklahoma County (DHS distributes the gifts assembled by OICA to over 60 other counties, and some counties have their own locally run gift drive). Inevitably, some of the wish lists will go unfulfilled, so we are also continuing to raise money to make sure every foster child has a holiday gift. Please consider donating to that effort at www.OKFosterWishes.org.
We are also preparing for the end of the year by finalizing our daily desktop calendar, which highlights statistics about child welfare as well as local organizations that work on children’s issues. We would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who helped ensure this data will reach lawmakers. Each senator and representative, our new governor and our congressional delegation will receive a calendar, along with each sponsor. On each page of the calendar is a statistic relating to children in Oklahoma, a message from the sponsor of the day, and information about a youth program working to help Oklahoma kids.
We are also gearing up for the 2019 legislative session. With so many new members and nearly three-quarters of lawmakers having two years or less experience, it will be a challenge to educate the Legislature about specific policies that need review, revision or a complete overhaul. OICA is prepared for this task as we submitted our own wish list to lawmakers to look at dozens of suggestions to improve the health, well-being and overall quality of life for Oklahoma’s children and their families.
I want to thank some of those lawmakers who have stepped up early to provide leadership in this area. I am looking forward to the legislation submitted in a bipartisan fashion by House Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City and Representative Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, that will enhance reforms in criminal justice laws to apply to persons who have previously been sentenced under old guidelines. This will allow for a release of non-violent offenders who would not be convicted under current law and allow them, many of whom are parents, to be reunited with their children. Children are six to seven times more likely to go to prison themselves if they have had a parent in prison, and on average, one in 10 of Oklahoma’s children have had a parent in prison at some point. Reducing the number of non-violent adults in prison today will inevitably reduce incarceration rates for today’s children as they grow up.
We also appreciate Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, for her effort last session to create a Trauma Informed Care Task Force, and for the modifications that will be pursued this year by her to include lawmakers and more regional representation in this effort. Rep. Bush will also be carrying several of our other agenda items, as will Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, who is assisting with revisions to foster care laws at our request.
I am also thankful for the new lawmakers who have jumped into the mix: Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, is working with OICA to craft legislation to help protect young Oklahomans from predators in schools. Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, is reintroducing his “Lauren’s Law” legislation to bring knowledge about consent to teenagers. We are also pleased to partner with the Potts Family Foundation to increase participation in the “Early Childhood Caucus” to improve knowledge about trends in that demographic.
It is a busy time of the year, but we are pleased that we are able to do all of this work on behalf of Oklahoma’s youth as their voice at the state Capitol!