Friday, November 13, 2015


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin kicked off ‘Oklahoma Fosters,’ a program designated to encourage Oklahomans to become foster parents.  “There are nearly 11,000 children in Oklahoma’s foster care system and we desperately need the hold of our entire community to care for them,” Fallin said. “These children are in state custody through no fault of their own. They need foster families to love and support them during their time of need.”  The program is asking businesses to encourage employees, and churches to encourage congregations, and Native American tribes to encourage citizens to consider being foster or adoptive parents.  The goal is to have one thousand (1,000) new foster parents by June of 2016. 
     “This is a crisis that government alone cannot solve,” Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake said. “We must have the help of businesses, nonprofits and philanthropic foundations, along with our current community and faith partners. There is a role for everyone and it will take all of us working together to take care of Oklahoma’s children.”
     One of the reasons there is such a sense of urgency to recruit more foster parents is because the state has closed large emergency children’s shelters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  By the end of the year, the Tulsa facility- Laura Dester Children Center- will be closed.  Between 50-100 kids were housed at the facility at any designated time.  Laura Dester is just five years old and cost taxpayers $12.4 million. DHS hasn’t announced plans for its use after the children are removed and shifted to private homes. The closures are part of the DHS Pinnacle Plan, a five year blueprint to improve child welfare in Oklahoma.  The Pinnacle Plan was the result of a settlement with child advocacy groups after they sued the state on behalf of several children hurt or killed in DHS custody.  The plan was finalized in July 2012.  You can read the entire Pinnacle Plan online at the DHS website.  
     Earlier this month, Sue Ann Arnall, Harold Hamm’s ex wife, though her Arnall Family Foundation gave $4.8 million dollars to the Department of Human Services for programs supporting foster care.  Arnall designated $2 million to the Intercept program, a high-intensity, in-home treatment program for troubled children and families that started serving Tulsa last year and $2.8 million toward starting a Youth Village program for older foster children.  It helps mentor them as they transition to adulthood. 
     If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, the requirements and qualification are listed on the DHS website-  Applicants must be between the ages of 21-55, be emotionally and financially stable, pass a background check, be a non-smoker, and be in good health.  The state pays between $15-$20 a day to foster parents.  
     Why does Oklahoma have so many foster children?  There are obviously a number of factors; first, Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate in the country and the second highest rate overall.  When the parents go to jail, the state has to take care of the kids.  The second reason is that DHS personnel are extra cautious and removing more children from homes.  Because of the scrutiny the agency received after children in state custody children were injured and killed, the agency has erred on the side of caution.  The result has been a 40% increase in the number of foster children in state custody in the past 5 years. Thankfully, most children placed in foster care in Oklahoma are back with their parents within a year, but a significant number remain in state custody long-term. 
     The root cause of the dramatic increase in foster children is the breakdown of the Oklahoma family.  One factor that must be considered is the expansion of gambling across the state.  According to Alan Meister, an economist at the University of California, Oklahoma Indian tribes derive over $5 billion annually from gambling revenue.   Meister says Oklahoma ranks second to only California in Indian gaming.  “The top two states, California and Oklahoma, generated a combined 38 percent of gaming revenue. Meanwhile, the top five states, which added Connecticut, Florida, and Washington to California and Oklahoma, accounted for approximately 61 percent of gaming revenue,” Meister says. 
     In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved a state wide lottery and the expansion of casino gambling.  The promise was better schools and prosperity.  Is it just a coincidence that incarceration rates, embezzlement cases and the number of foster children to be provided for by taxpayers has increased since gambling was expanded?  Gambling produces nothing.  It appeals to the covetousness nature of man and in the long run is a detriment to society.  Gambling is never a good investment.

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