I heard a lot last month about the presidential candidates. I heard a lot about Rep. Sally Kern. I heard a lot about SuperSonics basketball. These news stories flooded the papers, TV news reports and radio airwaves "¦ not to mention YouTube.
And I overheard once, tangentially, at a meeting on some work-related topic, that between July 2007 and January 2008, 248 children age 1 and younger had some length of stay at the Oklahoma County Pauline E. Meyer emergency shelter. And, I heard that during that same time period, 562 children age 5 and under called the shelter "home"! I never once heard or read about these vulnerable children through any kind of news media.
How do babies and preschool children get to a juvenile shelter? What happens to them at that time, or in a few months, or in foster care?
Do we care?
As of this writing, Oklahoma County alone has 2,755 children in foster care and 4,271 in out-of-home-care. Perhaps we aren't aware that the drug busts by law enforcement, which we applaud, often present young children to the court for disposition as well as their lawbreaking parents. Perhaps we aren't aware of the numbers of babies born in OKC hospitals monthly who are drug dependent, taken at birth from dangerous parents or abandoned as newborns.
Perhaps no one ever told us about the groups of siblings simply dropped off when parents can no longer cope.
Who speaks for these children? Where do these children go?
My call to action is for you and every friend and fellow church member and fellow civic club member you know.
No. 1: Implore our legislative leaders to provide sufficient moneys to sustain the Oklahoma Department of Human Services in this next fiscal year as it struggles to provide food for burgeoning food stamp rolls, medical services for those unemployed and members of the "working-poor," day care supplements for working Oklahomans struggling to make ends meet, and nutrition and pharmacy assistance for dependent senior citizens. If left unattended, these conditions have been linked to choices that aggravate the risk for child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and domestic and public violence.
No. 2: Share yourself personally as a volunteer at your local school or after-school program. Become a foster parent or therapeutic foster parent. Enlist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Oklahoma City, and for as little as one hour a week, you can change " even "save" " a life.
Join child-care advocates at 10 a.m. Tuesday on the south steps of the state Capitol when they display 14,000 pairs of shoes, representing the 14,000 children in out-of-home care across Oklahoma.
Will we speak for them?
I believe government should be indeed of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore, I will implore our legislators to provide appropriations necessary to care for society's dependent children and to implement programs that ensure the basic needs of all citizens.
I believe we each as individuals have a moral obligation to our "neighbors" and to our community, and that we are only as strong as the weakest link. So, I will increase my volunteer hours at my local elementary school, and I will create opportunities to spend more time with the youth whom I mentor.
Do we care?
Spring is a time of possibilities and beginnings. I'm more than ready to enjoy that newness and to share its promise with a child in need. Please join me.
Boyd, a former state legislator and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is owner and chief executive officer of Policy and Performance Consultants Inc.