This month I served on a panel for the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition Summit. We heard from experts who talked about how an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE) such as abuse, neglect, divorce, parental incarceration and poverty or witnessing domestic abuse or substance abuse can hinder children in school. Unfortunately, Oklahoma has one of the highest ACE rates in the United States.
We have long addressed the special educational needs of children while ignoring their social emotional needs. These are often the issues that lead to problems in school, delinquency and substance abuse later on. It’s something I am working to address in the State Senate.
This past session, I authored Senate Bill 718, authored in the House by Rep. Mark Lawson of Sapulpa. This measure, which was approved in both chambers and signed into law, will enable communities throughout Oklahoma to repurpose an existing resource to help address this very issue. Since the late 1970’s, towns and cities across our state have had community shelters to provide temporary care to children and youth. But as a result of the Pinnacle Plan which has placed a renewed state emphasis on foster care and adoptions, these shelter facilities have served fewer and fewer children.
State agencies serving youth were faced with a requirement to adapt to this new reality. SB 718 creates a new definition to be used for these existing facilities to make them relevant and protect the community investment made decades ago by introducing a new definition into state law; children’s emergency resource centers. The change eliminates the use of the term “shelter” since these facilities offer much more than shelter and allows communities to meet the current needs of the young people in their community who need help.
The fact is, when families struggle with any number of issues, children suffer. We know that early trauma and experiencing violence in the home can have disastrous results. The resource center can be available to protect children from the strife of home, provide temporary respite for struggling families, and be a partner for families with children with challenging behaviors. By changing a definition in statue, we’ve created an opportunity to maximize our available resources, stay relevant to the needs of the community today, and save taxpayer resources.
This change is an example of the detailed work that is necessary in a state with great need and limited resources. I’m pleased to have partnered with Oklahoma organizations serving children and youth to see improvement in their care, support their families, and help local non-profits fulfill our shared goals to help the youth of our state reach their fullest potential.
As always, please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.