Interim study looks at services, resources for troubled children, families (Capitol Update)

Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, hosted an interim study in the House Children, Family, and Youth Committee chaired by Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, last week to look at the feasibility of adding a “Family in Need of Services (FINS)” category to the Oklahoma Juvenile Code. According to Rep. Pae, 32 other states have a FINS statute, including neighboring Arkansas. 

I decided to check out the Arkansas statute, and it turns out a Family in Need of Services under the Arkansas Code is a family whose child displays behavior that is the same as that of a Child in Need of Supervision (CHINS) in Oklahoma. The behavior includes being habitually truant from school, habitually disobedient to reasonable commands of their parent or custodian, or running away from home without sufficient cause, permission, or justification. These are called “status offenses.” The child is out of control, which is likely to lead to other risky behavior, but has not committed a crime. Unfortunately, many of these kids end up on the streets, addicted, taken advantage of, or in trouble with the law.

The Oklahoma Juvenile Code is a relatively comprehensive statute. The main difference from the Arkansas Code is the nomenclature in Oklahoma describes the child rather than the family as a whole. Arkansas is more specific in some ways about describing in one place the services that can be provided to families such as childcare, homemaker services, crisis counseling, cash assistance, transportation, family therapy, physical, psychiatric or psychological evaluation, counseling, treatment or post-adoptive services. But there is plenty of authority, perhaps more in some instances, under the Oklahoma statute to provide services to families with a CHINS. 

The real question is whether the services allowed by statute are actually available and being provided by the state. I think what has happened is, in the absence of adequate funding and services, the CHINS—the out-of-control child—in Oklahoma has taken a back seat. Delinquent children generally get services because they have violated a law. Neglected and abused children get services because they must be protected. Children in Need of Mental Health Treatment also often get left behind because of lack of resources, but they are likely ahead of CHINS.    

Historically, Oklahoma overreacted in a punitive way to CHINS, often placing them in detention and even committing them to residential treatment facilities with delinquents although they had committed no crime. It is likely that when those punitive practices were stopped, they were not replaced with treatment and help for the children and their families. 

It’s no surprise that those dealing with CHINS, trying to help the child and stop the out-of-control behavior before it leads to delinquency, injury or worse, may be feeling the need for help from the legislature. Rep. Pae, a hard worker in the legislature, when he gets further into the subject is likely to find that the Oklahoma Juvenile Code is quite thorough. The more urgent need is for sufficient resources for the Office of Juvenile Affairs and DHS to provide more prevention and treatment services for these children and their families.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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