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Oklahoma health department restores cuts to child abuse prevention

Oklahoma City — Oklahoma will restore about $2 million in funding to prevent child abuse this year, but organizations aren't guaranteed the same money they got before funds were cut.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health ended the grants in October, as financial problems loomed. Interim Commissioner Tom Bates announced Monday that the department will be able to pay the grants again in the fiscal year starting July 1.

“I am pleased that we are able to restore the (child abuse grant) to its previous level of funding,” Bates said in a news release. “We must focus on delivering core public health services and fulfill mandates required by the Legislature. This is an important piece of our statewide effort in child abuse prevention.”

Agency spokesman Tony Sellars said the department is planning to get the money to the winning organizations by October. State law requires the department to fund organizations in all four quadrants of the state, as well as in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, he said. If no organizations apply from a certain area, the other applicants would split that leftover money.

Last year, nine organizations split the grants, which are used to run Parents as Teachers programs. They served 608 families in 26 counties in the 2017 budget year, according to the Health Department.

Positive parenting

The Parents as Teachers model involves home visits to teach parents about early childhood development, screen children for developmental problems and help connect families with resources. Participating families usually have at least one risk factor, such as a teen parent, poverty, limited parental education or ability to speak English, or a parent with a mental illness or addiction.

It's intended to teach parents positive ways to interact with their children, so that they won't abuse or neglect their children out of frustration or because they don't have resources to meet children's needs.

Two Oklahoma City organizations, Parent Promise and the Latino Community Development Agency, each received more than $200,000. The grant is open to up to 10 organizations, which all will have to reapply.

Sherry Fair, executive director of Parent Promise, said that while it would be easier if the groups didn't have to reapply, she understands the need to follow state contracting rules. She said Parent Promise will apply for more money than it received last year, with the hope of hiring another parent educator to work with families in Mustang and Yukon.

The process should be “seamless” for Parent Promise, because private donors have replaced the state funding since October, Fair said. That money allowed the organization to keep serving families and will last until the state money becomes available in a few months, she said.

“We're just really thankful and grateful” about the restored funding, she said.

Getting Parents as Teachers going again will be a little more difficult for some other organizations. Brenda Rose, executive director of Northwest Family Services in Alva and Fairview, said her group moved its two parent educators into other positions to avoid layoffs, so it will have to hire two additional people to bring Parents as Teachers back online.

Recruiting families to participate again also could prove challenging, Rose said, because some may feel “gun-shy” after the program was canceled. Still, she's not complaining about the difficulties that may lie ahead.

“We're just thrilled to death to have the chance to get that money back,” she said.

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›