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.”