OK HOUSE INTERIM STUDY - BUDGETS ARE MORAL STATEMENTS
On Wednesday, September 14, the Oklahoma House of Representatives held an interim study entitled "Budgets are Moral Statements" sponsored by Rep. Mark Lawson and Minority Leader Emily Virgin. The study featured two nationally recognized presenters: Clare Anderson, Senior Policy Fellow at Chapin Hall, University of Chicago and Laura Porter, co-founder of ACE Interface and the Self-Healing Communities framework. (Clare's research article on concrete and economic supports appeared in last month's OK25by25 Bulletin.)
The study also featured a powerful story from a Youth Villages Intercept program family member who talked about the challenges of a highly resourced couple trying to navigate the system to get help for their nephew.
This was followed by considerable data from the Oklahoma Policy Institute team about the state of child wellbeing over the past decade or more along with the history of Oklahoma's revenues and expenses and how children and families fared in the state's spending and budgeting priorities.
This final summary was delivered by Linda Manaugh:
On behalf of our early childhood policy partners and today’s presenters, I want to thank you for allowing us to present this information today.
What was shared with you today were several resources that have been proven to reduce the burden of expenses on state government by investing wisely in the supports that help restore child and family well being. Here are some of the things you heard:
1. Alignment and coordination of incentives and opportunities across agencies and systems
2. Targeted use of economic and concrete supports such as housing vouchers with case management and flexible child care subsidies
3. Early intervention through home visiting programs as a harm prevention AND family stabilization strategy. From Clare’s presentation we learned that paired with concrete supports home visitation reduces entries into child welfare
4. Meaningful stakeholder engagement to ensure the needs and priorities of families are met – requires a system shift in how families have traditionally been served
5. Investing in families and communities through community-driven engagement to help inform and determine resource allocation
As Laura Porter mentioned, we now have all of this NEW research at this important moment in time to apply it in policy, budget and practice and help us make the shift from the costly work of picking up the pieces to intentionally and wisely investing in our families and our children. To do all we can to stop the generational transmission of childhood adversity.
You heard from Darci about the challenges and delays in receiving needed and timely resources and services. With a more intentional focus on upstream prevention supports, it would have saved them considerable hardship and potential retraumatization and saved the state a considerable amount of money.
You heard from our friends at OK Policy Institute about our continued low ranking on childhood wellbeing and how budget cuts and budget choices have negatively impacted low wage and struggling families with children, particularly people of color. You also heard some bold recommendations to set ten year goals to improve the health, education and wellbeing of our children.
Supporting children means shoring up the ways we support the families raising them. Every policy we set – from tax credits to paid leave – should reduce financial pressures on families and increase the time and capacity for supportive family relationships.
We know that as policy makers focused on child wellbeing, you are always faced with finding the balance between treatment and prevention. We all want to keep kids from getting hurt for so many reasons – one of those being that when kids are hurt the state must step in provide the costly care and treatment they need, often for years of their childhood, and even into adulthood with the knowledge that adversities in childhood increase the likelihood of heart disease, cancer, substance use disorders, mental health issues – which are some of the most costly adult health issues in our state and country. We know that, as members of this committee, you are not tasked with thinking about American Rescue Plan funds right now and this study is not about that. But we do want you to know and think about the opportunity that these one-time funds offer to shore up the lives of vulnerable children and their families and make certain that we have evidence-based and trauma-informed systems in place that can begin to prevent and certainly mitigate the need for costly treatment and the long term consequences. This is how we see the decisions about the Rescue Plan funding relating to the fiscal responsibility interests of this committee. We are working on a framework to present to the Health & Human Services Workgroup of the Joint Committee by the end of this month that will recommend ways to use Rescue Plan funds to help activate a shift in systems costs. One thing is certain, this unprecedented infusion of funds into our state along with annually appropriated funding allows us to think about investing differently and in new ways to make long term and lasting impact.
Currently, half of the state’s child welfare population is made up of children ages 4 and younger and 75% of entries into our state’s child welfare system are attributed to child neglect. We understand child neglect as a largely sociological and poverty-related problem. It would be a staggering, unconscionable and costly tragedy if even more young children and families become involved in the child welfare system because there wasn’t a robust, committed and organized effort to ensure the systems designed to prevent and mitigate adverse experiences AND adverse environments are fully functional and resourced to support the positive situations and outcomes we all want and need to see.
Finally, I want to share some things we are considering as we work to prepare a blueprint of recommendations that will look to how to integrate existing public and private funds, the state and local coronavirus relief funds, and some of the Rescue Plan funds that are flowing toward addressing specific issues, like housing. The considerations are:
- The early childhood years encompass sensitive windows of brain development which set the stage for future learning and behavior. They happen “one time” in the human life cycle.
- Part of recovering from the pandemic is making sure infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and their families, have a strong foundation that resets their trajectory for good health and well being, and a lifetime of learning and contributing.
- Therefore, for short and long-term recovery, an integrated framework of resources – housing, financial stability, child care, infant/early childhood and adult mental health care, a protective factors approach for families – can be implemented to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on early childhood development.
- Oklahoma is strong in its number of existing, evidence-based efforts and promising practices that could be built on and built out toward a full recovery for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. However, unless we come around an intentional and integrated plan for supporting early childhood, it is going to be very difficult to adequately meet the needs of this population.
The decisions we make today will create the world our children will live in tomorrow. We have a responsibility to make sure all kids have what they need right now and in the future. Our state’s spending should reflect our state’s priorities – and our state’s priorities should be to build and strengthen families in ways that prevent serious, overwhelming adversities in life and in communities from ever happening in the first place. With government partners, we can build a strong and stable foundation that supports child, family and community wellbeing and elevate outcomes for everyone.
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