Losing our voice – a true champion for children bids farewell

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, several hundred Oklahomans from diverse walks of life will get together on the University of Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond for an event, organized by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy,  known as the Fall Forum.  Over the course of two days, participants will listen to elected officials and policy experts, get energized and depressed and energized again by the challenges facing the state, fight for their priorities through long workshops and breakout sessions – and emerge at the end with a legislative agenda for the upcoming 2010 session that will try to make improvements in the lives of  Oklahoma’s children.

What will make this year’s Fall Forum different is that it will be orchestrated for the last time by OICA’s Executive Director, Anne Roberts, who is departing after 20 years at the helm of OICA to take a position as director of legislative affairs for Integris Health. OICA is currently in the process of conducting a search to identify a successor (update: OICA has announced that Linda Terrell, currently the director of the Center for Children and Families in Norman, will be their new Executive Director).

Anne joined OICA in 1989, six years after the organization was created, after serving as community director for the Oklahoma Alliance against Drugs. For two decades, she has truly exemplified the title of “child advocate”, representing the interests of  the children of Oklahoma, especially low-income and disadvantaged children, who don’t have paid lobbyists working for them at the State Capitol. Each legislative session sees Anne working tirelessly to fight for the agenda developed at the Fall Forum, identifying legislative champions, pulling together data and personal stories to sway lawmakers, mobilizing her grassroots network, pleading and cajoling. A trained  singer, she has even been known to break into song to sway the vote of a wavering legislator! And even if her favorite epitaph is usually an embarrassed-sounding “oh my!”, she is a lot tougher and a little less sweet than she appears when the interests of kids are at stake.

I recently asked Anne what she considered to be her proudest achievements as the head of OICA. From the many legislative victories in which OICA played an active role,  she identified two that were especially notable. One was the effort to enact a large increase in the tobacco tax in 2004 that has allowed for the expansion of health insurance coverage and progress on children’s health. The other was last year’s comprehensive rewrite of the Children’s Code, an achievement that will have far-reaching implications for how vulnerable children are treated by the justice system, but which attracted little, if any, public notice.

Yet without hesitation, Anne cited as her single proudest achievement not a piece of legislation but the creation of a strong network of child advocates across the state. That network will be severely tested by her departure, especially at a moment when the combination of the recession and the state budget crisis is placing severe strains on families and children.  She has taught us the song; it will now be up to all the rest of us to lift our voices on behalf of children a little more loudly and with a little more urgency.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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