Funding Not an Impossible Dream

Some people think getting money out of the state an impossible dream.
Not Daniel L. Crawford.
He considers it a miracle — coupled with a lot of prayers.
The money, $91 a day per person, goes to care facilities for children removed from their homes. It also means shelter and safety where they have a chance to get their lives back in order.
These Oklahoma agencies serve troubled youth through residential services; family reunification; foster care; psychiatric services; educational services; adoption services; substance abuse prevention and independent living skills.
In addition, there are individual group and family therapy services, medical services and vocational training is offered.
Currently, approximately 10,297 young people are in some type of group home, in foster homes or in the adoptive process. That is down from more than 12,292 in 2006 and 2007.
Oklahomans are the big winners because chances have been reduced that they will not have to pay the big ticket item — housing someone in prison for many years.
Crawford, who doesn’t take ‘‘no’’ for an answer, was recognized with the Humanitarian Award by Oklahoma Care for his work in the money problem. Funding went from $46.49 to $91 dollars per person per day for Level B, C and D homes such as the Lions Boys’ Ranch near Perkins — Level C — and other facilities throughout the state.
The funding increase kept several from permanently closing, Crawford said. Some boards of directors had made the decision to close because they no longer could afford to operate.
Imagine, Crawford said, buying gasoline for a car in 2009 while the budget is set at the 1985 costs.
Even with the state funding increase, they still depend upon private sponsors like the Lions Club and nearly every religious and philanthropic organization to operate.
When Crawford went to bat for state funds for the Lions Boys’ Ranch, his efforts were focused only on that project.
The legislature was in special session and there was no line item that would provide the funding for any Level C facilities. Those few lawmakers in both houses supporting the measure understood the benefits.
It cost the state $160 per day cost to keep someone in prison. That compares to the $91 to keep youth that had been taken away from their homes by the courts in facilities until they could be placed either in foster homes or adopted.
It was 2007 and the impact of the sour economy had not yet been felt, he said. It was the last day of the special session and the per diem rate increase seemed doomed.
The effort was kept alive by those few legislators who held out for the funding increase.
‘‘I was hoping for enough money to keep the Lions Boys’ Home open,’’ Crawford said. Everyone was saying that an increase, if any, might range between 10 to 15 percent.
Group homes help youth transition to foster or adoptive homes, he said. ‘‘They come to us because they have been abused and neglected. Some just need love and a stable environment. Others need love and counseling to adjust. Some come from psychiatric hospitals and are adjusting back into society.
The Tulsa Boys’ Home is a classic setting where there is a secure environment. It is in this atmosphere that boys learn to deal with their aggressions so they don’t hurt either themselves or someone else, Crawford said. Once that is under control and there is no need to be segregated, they can move to a less confining facility. They can go to public school, get jobs in the community and still have counseling services available as needed. Hopefully they can move to the single family home and be free of group home restrictions. ‘‘Our ranch is unique because we take boys are victims of crimes committed against them by their parents,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘They have been made judicial orphans by the court.’’
Crawford told about just one case.
One boy was being raised by a single mother involved in a witch cult. Mom was determined her son would be a member and he has burn marks on his body because of that group’s rituals.
While the youth was not in any way physically limited or mentally incapacitated, he would not speak when he first arrived at the Lions Boy’s Ranch. He was socially challenged. When he saw someone come to the ranch he trusted he would run up and give them a bear hug, yet saying nothing.
Crawford, a recipient of those hugs, said ‘‘I thought he was going to squeeze me to death.’’
There is no such thing as a bad boy, he said. It is the environment. If the boy grows up in a family where drug deals and violence is the norm, they probably will be that way as adults.
‘‘I have been around enough kids long enough to see patterns,’’ he said. ‘‘I was a municipal judge in Henryetta for five years and saw children in court whose parents had been in same position years before.’’
Crawford, a native of Henryetta, knew the parents. Some had been high school classmates.
‘‘I had an epiphany while in that position and felt that if it were possible to remove kids from that environment that they might have a chance to turn their lives around,’’ he said. ‘‘I was seeing family histories going back three and four generations.’’
A child is no different five minute before or five minutes after they commit a crime, Crawford said. It’s time to look at the core of their upbringing. If the child has never known anything but abuse, that is how he is going to react. It is easy to imagine that always is the way that family has been.
There is a need for an increased number of group homes so some of these kids have a chance, he said. Unfortunately, when it is time for one to transition from a higher level home to one that is less strict, there often is no room.
‘‘I would like to see number of group homes increased at the B, C and D levels,’’ Crawford said. That would help those who are living there have a better chance and going into a foster home or be adopted. Oklahoma’s foster homes overall do a good job, but the need is equally great.
Oklahoma always has been at the top per capita in the number of young people in care facilities in the nation, he said. There are so many kids in single families raised by mom. When mom goes to jail, they have no place to go. Most of the time it is these home experiences that makes the child so aggressive.
‘‘We need to identify the problems in the homes and intercept the children early before they are permanently damaged,’’ he said. ‘‘Then we need to do more than just treat the symptoms. We need to treat the cause — get adults help so they can be better parents.’’
Speaking only for the Lions Boys’ Ranch, Crawford said the additional state money is taking the pressure off the organization’s budget and allowing Lions Clubs across the state to look at improving or expanding facilities while funding the foundation so state funds might not be needed in the future.
‘‘We experienced lean times and closed a house because we could not afford to pay the house parents or feed the boys,’’ he said. ‘‘Now the possibilities for the future are exciting. We want to grow so every kid can come home to a family.’’
Crawford, who offices at 1847 South Boulder Ave., can be reached at 796-5790. The email address is Dan@dlcrawfordlaw.com.



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