The Senate gave final approval to legislation Friday to help reach out to the thousands of at-risk youth in the state and help them become productive citizens. Senate Concurrent Resolution 32, by Sen. Harry Coates, creates the Task Force on Youth Transitioning into Adulthood to look at why so many of Oklahoma's children are falling through the cracks.
"Oklahoma does a great job of helping at-risk youth under the age of 18 through various programs including educational, drug treatment, mental health, rehabilitation and medical services," said Coates, R-Seminole. "The problem is that these services stop when they turn 18, and a majority of them aren't able to make that important transition to independent living. Therefore, all the millions we spent on them as children are wasted because they continue to be wards of the state since they don't know how to support themselves."
The senator explained that depending on the level of care, the financial investment by the state can range from $8,260 for a young person in foster care for one year to over $108,000 for one in juvenile institutional care. He fears that without help with the transition into adulthood, the state’s money will be wasted.
"These children have no positive influences in their lives to teach them about right and wrong, how to work hard to achieve their goals in life, or just the basics of how to be an independent, productive citizen,” said Coates. “It’s a problem that costs the taxpayers millions every year in public assistance simply because they’ve never been taught what they’re supposed to do as adults, and that’s why it’s imperative that this task force find a solution to this growing problem.”
The task force will study those youth who are currently in or are preparing to exit the juvenile justice or foster care system or who experience conditions in their daily lives that place their healthy, safety, physical and mental health at risk. They will look at policies and programs to assist these youth through education, behavioral health, social services, housing, and employment services.
According to the Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy (OICA), which requested the legislation, Oklahoma has a tremendous problem with at-risk youth transitioning into adulthood as do other states. OICA has found that:
- There are over 60,000 young Oklahomans, ages 18-24, who have only a high school degree and who are neither in school or the military, and are unemployed.
- Fewer than 43 percent of youth exiting the juvenile justice system return to school after their release, and another 16 percent drop out within five months.
- The Oklahoma City Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force reported there are at least 1,500homeless children in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
The OICA also conducted a study of youth aging out of foster care in the Midwest and found that:
- Fewer than one-third were enrolled in an education or training program, and only 11 percent were
enrolled in college.
- Fewer than half were employed, and for those were, employment was sporadic, rarely providing financial security.
- Less than half received independent living services and only 50 percent received education services.
- Twenty-five percent didn’t have enough to eat and one in seven has been homeless.
- Nearly half of the females were pregnant by age 19 and were more than twice as likely to have at least one child.
- Thirty-three percent had been arrested in the last year and 23.7 percent spent at least one night in a correctional facility.