The state may need help from the private sector in providing services for foster care youth transitioning into adulthood, Sen. A.J. Griffin said Wednesday.
Griffin, R-Guthrie, said the state could possibly benefit by not only relying more on private program services to augment their own, but also by duplicating the methods of those private organizations that are producing positive results.
Griffin, along with other members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, met with mental health and youth services experts at the Capitol for an interim study focusing on the issue of young people who lose access to a range of state services when they turn 18.
Among the specific topics discussed was the issue of mental health problems among children in foster care and how properly to address them.
Marqus Butler, the Oklahoma Healthy Transition Initiative project director for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said the number of children dealing with mental health concerns is becoming more and more evident.
“We're starting to notice some, what I call special populations, of young people in transition,” said Butler. “These are quickly becoming what I consider to be our most vulnerable young people. They include a group of former foster care youth, and these are the former foster care youth with severe mental illness.”
Shawn Black, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services, said he believes the key to addressing many of their problems is starting earlier.
“We need to start thinking what can we do differently with the services that are being provided right now,” Black said. “All I'm saying is, we should not wait until they're 16, 17, and 18 before we start saying what can be done for these kids. Let's start when they're in foster care.”
Black and other youth service providers testified that while the state has some good programs to offer, Oklahoma children in foster care need more education on topics such as healthy relationships, and many need deeper mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Black said not only will this help children become independent, it also will help state agencies make better use of state and federal dollars by catching problems sooner.
“We spend about $5,000 a year for foster care families to take care of a kid,” Black said. “If they move away from foster care and into a group home, you're now paying $50,000. If they get caught, commit a crime, and go to the Office of Juvenile Affairs, a medium security facility, $90,000 a year.”