If you did not make it to the 2019 Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) Fall Forum last week, then you missed quite an event! We had more than 150 advocates from across the state assembled to participate in workshops, discuss potential new legislation with state lawmakers in attendance, and share ideas for improving conditions for the youth of Oklahoma.

I have many people to thank for the tremendous work that was completed during the three-day event, and that starts with the OICA staff who made the conference happen. Our conference director was unable to attend due to an illness with a family member, and I would ask that you keep her family in your thoughts and prayers as they undergo medical treatments. The rest of the staff and our intern stepped up their game and saw everything through to completion, for which I am immensely grateful.

The presenters we had were outstanding. My thanks go out to the individuals who shared their expertise on topics that included: preventing child abuse, justice-involved youth, the US Census, tobacco-use prevention, decreasing hunger in Oklahoma, seat belt usage, opportunities available through Youth Services programs, the Handle with Care program, and immunizations. The information provided by each presenter was extremely beneficial for the delegates.

I also must thank the lawmakers who took time out of their busy schedules to attend and interact with the advocates to develop ideas and learn more from each other. Those lawmakers include Senators John Michael Montgomery, Carri Hicks, Mary Boren and Representatives Kelly Allbright, Trish Ranson, Merlyn Bell, Jeff Boatman, Nicole Miller, Andy Fugate, Sherrie Conley, Tammy Townley, Cyndi Munson, Chris Kannady, Carol Bush, Jacob Rosecrants, Marilyn Stark and Brian Hill. A special thanks goes to Rep. Mark Lawson for helping to schedule a workshop on how legislative interim studies work and for leading a review of the Family First Prevention Services Act. This allowed the attendees to learn the value of interim studies and how to work with lawmakers as they learn and develop opinions on issues. You can see this two-hour discussion on the Oklahoma House of Representatives YouTube channel (or by going directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VPtj1vaoFA).

Another portion of the conference included a panel discussion with state agency leaders. We were proud to host State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Secretary for Human Services and Early Childhood Development Steven Buck, Deputy Secretary for Health Carter Kimble, Department of Human Services Director Justin Brown, Front Porch Initiative Director Tom Bates, and Commissioner of Health Gary Cox. Each panelist answered questions posed by Scott Mitchell, the host of Your Vote Counts and the Hot Seat on News9.

The takeaway from this conference was that people need to be better informed about issues impacting children and to be unafraid to discuss these ideas with lawmakers. The mission of OICA is to raise awareness and encourage action, and I am confident that each of the attendees is now better equipped to go forward with their own youth-related work and assist state officials with improving Oklahoma for our children.

Finally, I would like to recognize our benefactors, without whom this conference could not have happened. They include Sonic, the Chickasaw Nation, the Love Meyer Foundation, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, TSET, Community Health Charities, the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association, OSU-OKC and Chesapeake Energy. Next week, I will highlight the three awards presented by OICA at our conference and the work done by the 2019 winners. Stay tuned for more updates!

Panelists discuss issues impacting child welfare at the OICA Fall Forum. From left to right: Rep. Mark Lawson; Anne Heiligenstein of Casey Family Programs; Marlo Nash of St. Francis Ministries: Dr. Deb Shropshire, Child Welfare Director with OKDHS; Crystal Jensen and Erica Salka, Parent Mentors, Oklahoma Parent Partners with NorthCare; and Dr. Laura Shamblin, pediatrician.

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