Sample Op-Ed from the Oklahoman

Below is an example of an op-ed that SPARC helped with. It was placed in the Oklahoman on Sunday, May 13th, 2012 and can be found here.

Child advocate says foster care improvements are possible in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman, by Laura Boyd, May 13, 2012

When it comes to child abuse and neglect, we have two basic responsibilities. We must strengthen families to prevent abuse or neglect whenever possible. And we must take swift but thoughtful actions that give kids the best possible chance to grow up in a safe, stable, loving and supportive permanent home.

The Legislature is finalizing legislation to help child welfare officials make better use of the resources they have and to improve the options available to children affected by abuse or neglect. One problem we know is that state workers have too much on their plates. They must build relationships in the community — taking time and resources they don’t have — before they can begin the equally challenging work of recruiting and supporting foster families and youth and then address the unique needs of each child and family.

Foster care reform legislation is under consideration to move the responsibility of foster care services where it belongs: into the communities where those parents, and the children who need foster families, live. It’s not that state workers can’t do it, or even that they can’t do it as well. It’s that private agencies working every day in local communities already have the relationships required to do it more quickly and more efficiently.

When implemented, these changes mean that DHS permanency planning workers can focus on actually doing what their title suggests: working with courts, children, families and other trusted adults to find the lifelong homes kids need to recover from abuse or neglect and to build solid, productive lives. If done well, this reform delivers a win-win for Oklahoma. It engages local leaders in finding solutions for local kids, and it frees up state employees to do the critical work they are specially trained to do.

Key steps remain. The Legislature must pass this legislation now. After the governor signs it into law, DHS must implement the reforms. That nitty-gritty work — where the agency meets with private providers, negotiates contracts, and sets reporting and monitoring systems — is never glamorous, but it is critically important. Successful implementation will depend upon the active engagement of lawmakers, stakeholders, foster youth and concerned parents.

It is important that The Oklahoman and other concerned observers continue shining a spotlight on efforts to improve our child abuse and neglect prevention and response systems. Thoughtful public attention will be important to ensure that systemic changes result from the active, effective engagement of the public. We should expect DHS to lead the way, with a strong stakeholder and community engagement plan. But if the plan falls short, either in design or execution, the public must hold all accountable.

Oklahoma children can never be too safe, and they can never have too many chances for success in life. There will always be work to do. But Oklahoma has made enormous progress this year, and if we all maintain our commitment, we can deliver real gains for our kids.

Boyd, of Norman, is executive director of the Oklahoma Therapeutic Foster Care Association and a former member of the Legislature.

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