Oklahoma has been awarded more than $5 million in federal grants to help transition state children's shelters into assessment centers and help workers better recognize and treat abused and neglected children for emotional trauma.
The federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, has awarded $3.2 million to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and $2 million to NorthCare.
NorthCare is a nonprofit, charitable organization that provides behavioral health and wellness services to children, adults and families in central and western Oklahoma.
“I'm pretty excited,” said Deborah Smith, director of DHS child welfare services. “In all my years of working in child welfare …, the work around trauma is one area that just really gets me excited.”
The state has traditionally concentrated its child welfare efforts on trying to get children removed from dangerous family situations and placed in safe environments.
The agency now is seeking to go beyond that and help workers better screen children and their families for psychological trauma so they can be treated and real healing can occur, said Annette Burleigh, program manager for DHS's trauma services efforts.
The $3.2 million will fund a five-year program.
DHS plans to put its trauma-based care model in place first at the Pauline E. Mayer Children's Shelter in Oklahoma City, then add the Tulsa Children's Shelter, followed by Youth Services shelters in other parts of the state, Burleigh said.
At the same time this is happening, DHS will be carrying out a federal court settlement and reform plan that calls for phasing out the use of state shelters to house the youngest children in state custody and placing those children in foster homes, instead.
As the transition occurs, the shelters will be used as assessment centers, Smith said.
DHS officials anticipate that some older children will need to continue staying at the shelters for longer periods of time, but want to be able to begin treating those children for their trauma issues during that time, she said.
“One really good thing about this grant is no federal match is required,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, NorthCare has been awarded a three-year, $2 million grant.
That money is to be used to provide comprehensive care coordination for kinship foster families in Oklahoma County, officials said.