Possibilities!

It is no surprise to anyone that all states have a shortage of foster homes for the youth we need to serve. There are shortages at the traditional level of foster care and obviously at the higher levels of therapeutic foster care as well. As a result, children in state custody are often sent to ‘higher’ levels of care (i.e. congregate settings, group homes) when their individual needs could be served in a home setting in their own communities….if only we had more foster parents and more foster homes.

Last week Oklahoma took a big step that may ameliorate some of this shortage for this state. The legislatively appointed Foster Care Improvement Task Force approved recommendations for the next legislative session. One recommendation is to expand the state/tribal/private collaborations in the state around therapeutic foster care – which is contracted 100% to private licensed child placing agencies in partnership with the Department of Human Services. This expansion would allow child placing agencies to expand their services to all placement needs of foster youth: traditional foster care, emergency foster care, therapeutic foster care and kinship foster care. 

It is the belief of the provider community and the Task Force that such expansion would increase community investment in ALL foster youth and allow private agencies to recruit more effectively for all levels of care. Goals of this expansion are to achieve shorter time to permanence, stability in placement, improved education and developmental achievement while in care, and develop greater involvement of local community resources in addressing the needs of foster youth.

The responsibility for ‘next steps’ now lies with the Legislature (and child advocates!) to advance such a proposal.

Good work by the volunteer Task Force!  Exciting possibilities!

Tough sledding continues.

The holiday season presents a stark contrast in 2011 especially. All of us want to enjoy this time of family, fun, special food and events, and personal ‘inventories’. This is an opportunity to focus on values, faith, goals, and dreams.

The contrast: people seeking work while Congress ‘punts’; hungry elderly whose buying power is diminished continually with rising prices in goods and services; single mother families whose poverty rate across this country in 2010 was a whopping 40.7%, the 1-in-5 children in the US who live in poverty and the 1-in-4 children at risk of hunger.

How do we/does society reconcile the joy we so seek during these holidays and the reality of our economy and our politics? Hope? Prayer? Action? Inaction?

If we can’t figure it out during the holidays when hearts and minds seem most dedicated to seeking true peace, harmony, and blessing, then will there be an answer?

Ideas?

More later,

Laura

Something to think about?

As we all know, budgets (government and personal) are and have been suffering greatly for most of us. We hear plenty of talk about tax cuts; restructuring the entitlements of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and in Oklahoma the weekly pleas of social services, city governments, education, and state employees for more fiscal resources.

Both in Oklahoma and nationally there are cries from Higher Education for more money and a well-presented case for raising tuition rates. The key is the tie of more college degrees to economic strength.

Yesterday I was presented with a different statistic that has paused me to think once more. It is reported that a poor child is 5 times more likely to also be poor between the ages of 25-30. In other words, poverty appears to breed poverty and be lingering for these youth. It follows that their mental, emotional and physical development may then not have them prepared (or interested?) in a college career. Economic strength may mean “where is my next meal” and “will I be warm enough tonight”?

The presenter of this poverty statistic goes on to suggest that in these lean times decision makers should be investing in young children and their development, if we must continue to make these hard choices.

Something to think about…….

I am angry….and scared.

Many of you read the new poverty statistics released last week both nationally and for each state.
“A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the organization that studies the state of children throughout the world, found that the child poverty rate has jumped 18 percent from 2000 to 2009. Other reports now show that 49 percent of the nation’s children are growing up in families who qualify for help from the Women, Infants and Children program.”

In Oklahoma alone, 60% of the babies born in 2010 were born on Medicaid! Almost 20% of the state population has NO insurance. 1 in 3 children grow up in homes of parents under age 30 who are below the federal level of poverty.

And we worry about education, obesity, taxes (68% of Oklahomans want taxes lowered by the Legislature in 2012 even if it means FEWER government services)! If you have read my prior blogs, you know I have been focusing on some of these issues as well.

Clearly, I, too, have missed the boat!  How can we worry about obesity when all families can afford is mac-and-cheese. Even those of us supporting church and community food pantries are personally limited to high carb and high calorie donations.  I’ve worried about the quality of education offered our children or families that don’t get their kids to school and help with homework. What about the child who simply can’t learn because hunger and worry about his/her family’s hunger keeps him occupied mentally and emotionally elsewhere!

The national “talk” is about how the next generation could be strapped with huge national debt, and unable to sustain this country as they take on a growing aged population with their own smaller census of workers.

Talk about off-the-mark! How dare we skip the reality of today to focus so exclusively (even with justification) about tomorrow. These youth may not LIVE to inherit the earth: debt-laden or debt-free. These children cannot develop their bodies for the future when robbed of nutrients and health care today. These future workers will not become the engineers or the highway workers who maintain our infrastructure, so necessary to a vibrant economy, if their minds have not been nurtured with the opportunity and ability to achieve at least a basic education.

Yes, I’m scared…..and angry. Now is the time to refocus attention, discussion, and action. Please join me.

Important Re-post: Everyone’s future is on-the-table.

Three essentials for the deficit panel’s proposal

By James E. Clyburn, Published: September 5

Since I was named to the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) charged with getting our nation’s financial house in order, the reactions I have received from South Carolinians and others have been encouraging and remarkably enthusiastic. So much so that I have, on occasion, found it necessary to reflect on having grown up in a parsonage as a minister’s son, and cautioned that my 11 colleagues and I are not the “chosen 12.”

I am entering the committee’s negotiations with a clear vision, an open mind and a willingness to find common ground. I have always said that if the distance between my opponents and me is five steps, I don’t mind taking three. Real deficit reduction, however, must have three components: jobs, cuts and revenue.

Jobs: During the August recess I held a town hall meeting on the campus of Voorhees College, in Bamberg County, S.C. Bamberg has an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent. The neighboring counties of Barnwell, Orangeburg and Allendale have, respectively, unemployment rates of 17 percent, 17.7 percent and 19.8 percent. People didn’t want to hear about cuts or revenue; they wanted to hear about jobs. We cannot get the economy back on track until we put people back to work. Job creation will generate tax revenue and reduce the need for government assistance.

Cuts: Targeting waste, fraud and abuse; eliminating unnecessary and duplicative spending; and ending military adventurism need not be accompanied by slashing essential services such as education and shredding our social safety nets — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Just last week, the Commis sion on Wartime Contracting identified at least $31 billion, and possibly $60 billion, in waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. This spring the Government Accountability Office identified 34 areas where federal agencies or offices offer overlapping and duplicative programs.Streamlining could save billions.

Revenue: While I think our current tax code is unfair and in need of massive overhaul, the supercommittee does not have the time or resources to sufficiently reform the tax code. But we do have time to reduce inequities, close loopholes, and eliminate outdated and unnecessary tax subsidies. The evidence is clear and convincing. There is a growing wealth gap in this country that is squeezing the middle class and pushing millions into poverty. We need to work together to address these urgent priorities.

This leads me back to my youthful days in the parsonage. I am the oldest of three boys. One day my brothers and I were having a disagreement that turned physical. Our minister father, who loved to teach through parables, called us over when he thought our altercation had gone on long enough. He gave a piece of cord string to my youngest brother, Charles, and asked him to break it. Charles couldn’t. He then gave it to my brother John and asked him to pop it. John couldn’t. Finally he gave it to me and told me to break the string. I couldn’t. Our father placed that piece of cord string between his palms and started rubbing his hands together. The more he rubbed, the more friction he created, and the cord string started to unravel — into three pieces. He gave one to each of us and told us to break them. This time when we tried, we succeeded. Then, dad gave us the lesson: “Don’t you let the little disagreements that crop up among you create so much friction that it separates you, because if you do, the world will pop you apart and you may never realize why.”

We, as a supercommittee, cannot let our differences cause too much disagreement. Debt and deficit reduction should be wrapped into a strong cord of job creation, budget cuts and revenue raisers. Pursuing them separately will weaken our efforts and could doom our mission.

The writer, a U.S. representative from South Carolina, is assistant Democratic leader in the House.

Sad irony…..

One in three Oklahoma youth ages 0-18 is overweight or obese! Other states have similar issues, although not this high! (Except Colorado which seems to be quite healthy…at least in comparison.)

Consider what this statistic says about the limited effect of playing and enjoying life for these youth now. (Doing anything physical is more difficult and therefore a deterrent to those activities that could actually reverse this trend!)  Consider the future impact to these youth of health complications as adults  —- YOUNG adults!  Consider the consequence to tax payers whether through increased medical and insurance costs or lack of healthy workforce to move our economy and country forward.

Clearly this is one epidemic that cannot bear our willingness to ‘not notice’.

Why are we in this condition?  Yes, too much TV and computer games. Yes, too many parents drive kids to school when they could (should) safely walk. Yes, good nutrition, fruits, and vegetables are expensive for a citizenry in which 65% participated to some degree last year in the food stamp program. Yes, laziness, poverty, ignorance, denial.

Regardless of how we arrived here, what are we going to do? As a community, in our schools, as families, as individuals?

We know that ‘addicts’ will not be able to begin recovery until the addict him/herself makes that commitment. How much more difficult this work is around obesity when society accepts and too often laughs with/at this addiction of inactivity or poor choices or the vicious cycle of poverty.

I do not know the answer. I do know that I will no longer join self-kidding from others who remark about their overweight as though age or work requirements are allowable excuses. I know I continue to invite my family into playful, physical activities….even if rebuffed repeatedly. I know I will seek suggestions from others who face this same worry on behalf of our common good.

Comments welcomed!

It is NOT over!

I have been away from this blog. Waiting daily for Congress to pass something to allow debt limit to be raised while fighting harmful changes to Medicaid and programs for the poor. We all know that they finally did something!  Then we see the details.

I took some time to try and find relief.  Still no sign of relief, but it was refreshing not to have the constant screaming and blaming from DC on the airwaves 24/7!

HOWEVER, it is NOT over!  Health care, food stamps, Medicaid for the indigent, poor families, and foster kids is still on the chopping block. Maybe not today – Congress is on recess. But if the new Super Committee cannot come up with reasoned and adequate budget cuts by their November 23rd deadline for reporting out recommendations, nothing is spared the ax potentially…..poor, hungry, ill, infirm, old, foster kids!

Indeed, these cuts won’t heal!  And so my work continues.  And you are needed to help keep these concerns before your Congresspersons.

At least DC took a recess…..and I was able to gain my wind again!

There’s something about being a woman……

that is different!

Good and not so good.  Good: we live longer than men apparently.  Bad: we live longer than men.

This matter of additional days, months, or years takes on new meaning in the current federal budget debates.  IF social security payments are cut or do NOT have any cost of living increases available, women will be most disadvantaged as we live longer on less. (Does anyone think the cost of living will not rise in next 10-40 years? If you do, I have a “bridge”…….).  IF Medicare age of eligibility is raised, women will be the ones waiting longer (longest?) for access to health care and that doesn’t even look at the issue of what Medicare will cover in the future.  BECAUSE women remain the primary care givers in our society and BECAUSE society still does not pay women the same salaries for the same work as men, we do not have the equal or adequate social security savings in the first place… either from time off to raise children, responsibilities to tend to elderly parents, or flat out salary discrimination!

Humm, and this tiresome political wrangling over the budget continues to suggest the way to remedy this country’s fiscal problems will fall disproportionately on women.

Indeed, there’s something about being a woman that is different…..and unfair. I wonder if Democrats or Republicans would be focused on this set of ‘solutions’ if the majority of elected officials were women.  I doubt it.

29 Republican Governors, including Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin, have asked Minority US Senate and House leaders to block-grant Medicaid funds for the states. These governors decry the need for flexibility in managing state budgets and meeting the health care needs of their citizens. Indeed, states headed by both Democrat and Republican governors are struggling and all governors support the concepts of flexibility, transparency, accountability, and partnership as concerns federal-state appropriations and obligations.

I have great concerns, however, about block-granting Medicaid, especially as it might impact children.

Child advocates understand and agree with the need to rein in the budget and to control Medicaid costs. At same time, we are very concerned that only 22% of Medicaid spending is used by children who comprise 58% of the Medicaid population. Block-granting of Medicaid pits that non-voting, under-represented group (i.e. children) against voting and vocal constituencies.

Likewise, experience suggests that future appropriations from the federal government under a block-grant will not keep up with skyrocketing health care costs or the cost of inflation. Thus the pain of program cuts (and more political haggling) is simply thrust onto the states.

Child advocates, community and business leaders, and parents need to communicate with federally elected officials and governors now: protect our children. Do not block-grant Medicaid! However, if you do, do not jeopardize the next generation of leaders, families and advocates by compromising their health, safety, and education today….and as you address state budgets in the future!