Leadership change at Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (Capitol Update)

It was a surprise to see that Steve Buck is moving on from his job as Executive Director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) with secondary duty as Secretary of Human Services. I first became acquainted with Steve when he was serving as Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Oklahoma. Steve left NAMI to become the legislative liaison and Deputy Commissioner for Communications and Prevention for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). He served a 10-year stint with NAMI and nine years with OKDMHSAS. He became Executive Director of OJA in February 2016.

 After 19 years of advocacy for mental health services, Steve came to OJA with a strong commitment to serving youth, tempered with an eye toward the most efficient expenditure of taxpayer money. His primary goal was prevention, always seeking to follow the data and make services available to troubled youth as early as possible. He insisted the best chance of success in a young person’s life, at the least cost to taxpayers, is early intervention with evidence-based or evidence-informed services.

State government is filled with people like Steve who work to make life better for Oklahomans who need help. It’s not easy to get political support for issues like mental health, substance abuse, and delinquent youth, but folks like Steve and others labor, often behind the scenes and with little thanks, to bring these issues to the forefront and get people the help they need. Unfortunately in Oklahoma, the funding has been inadequate, so it’s especially tough to lose talented leadership like Steve’s.

My guess is Steve has left the agency in good hands and will have a succession plan ready to recommend for Governor Stitt. Since last year’s legislation, the OJA Executive Director is a gubernatorial appointment. Hopefully the Governor will find a replacement who will be able to continue the progress made under Director Buck. A 13-year-old child in trouble is only 13 once, and a missed opportunity to get the help she needs can have life-long consequences. There’s no time to waste.


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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