A reminder of the harsh reality faced by children – The Journal Record

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Joe Hight

Familiar items such as paper calendars have recently become more prominent in my household. The calendar we use from the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy also has an important purpose behind it.

The nonprofit institute that prides itself as a “voice for Oklahoma’s children” has roots initiated by investigative journalism. It was founded 37 years ago after the Gannett News Service’s “Oklahoma Shame” series brought nationwide attention to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ abuse of children within its system.

Today, the calendar serves as a fundraiser and advocacy tool for the nonprofit headed by CEO Joe Dorman, a former gubernatorial candidate and longtime state representative. I have known Dorman since we sat next to each other in a University of Central Oklahoma graduate-level class in 1996. In 2018, I was one of his “500 friends” who received requests to sponsor a calendar’s day.

The calendar, which will continue until Jan. 31, 2021, is different because it is based on the legislative year. “Joseph Hight” appears on Jan. 8. For many, it serves as a reminder of the date, perhaps a lawmaker’s birthday, a significant date during the year, even a poster created by a child. If you look closer, it reveals issues that still affect children in Oklahoma and nationwide. State and federal websites, such as ones for the Census and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are scoured each year for the most-recent available information.

Many statistics are sobering. On Thursday, a page featuring a “I WANT TO TRAVEL THE WORLD” poster by 4-year-old Lucy states this from the Food Research and Action Center:

“There was a 121% increase in the number of Oklahoma children participating in the Afterschool Supper Program from October 2016 to October 2017, the largest increase in the nation.”

The one for Saturday from the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse is more startling: “There was a 68% increase in the number of drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma from 2007-16.”

“We don’t sugarcoat the trauma faced by children,” Dorman said about the calendar notations, which also are intended to inform Oklahoma’s state and federal lawmakers. “They have to realize how bad it is for kids in this state as well as nationally. We’re hoping these daily statistics … raise awareness. It’s hard for lawmakers to believe these conditions exist in Oklahoma as well as the United States.”

The institute also serves as a champion for other Oklahoma nonprofits that serve children and works on their behalf at the state Capitol, Dorman said. One of its successes was the creation of the Trauma-Informed Care Task Force in 2018. According to the Tulsa World in 2019, the task force’s “goal is to find ways to reduce or mitigate harm inflicted by Adverse Childhood Experiences, of which Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation for youths experiencing two or more.” The task force’s preliminary report pointed out the long-term costs of children’s maltreatment are in the billions of dollars.

“Oklahomans suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to a greater degree, on … average, than most Americans. The scars of childhood trauma have resulted in poor outcomes for many of our neighbors as reflected in high rates of chronic disease, mental illness, incarceration, and other physical and social problems.”

Its final report is expected in November.

As for the calendar, I’ve decided to look at it not only for the current date but as a reminder of the harsh reality faced by Oklahoma children. That reality and the task force’s future recommendations must become more prominent to lawmakers, too.

More sponsors are needed for the institute’s 2021 calendar, Joe Dorman said. For more information on the calendar and the early bird offer that expires Aug. 1, contact Dorman at 405-236-5437. To donate, go to oica.org. You can also see the daily calendar pages on the institute’s website at oica.org or on Twitter at @OklaChildAdv.