Western Plains continues to do more with less (Woodward News)

By Elise Solloway

The fate of Oklahoma’s social services in 2017 are in the hands of the state economy, the House, the Senate, and the Governor.

Woodward’s Western Plains Youth and Family Services, Inc. receives part of its annual funding from the state, and for the past few years has seen continuous budget cuts. The organization provides Therapeutic Foster Care, Outpatient Counseling, Youth Shelter, Systems of Care, First Time Offenders, and Health Homes for northwest Oklahoma children and families.

“The thing about Western Plains is that we’ve been through it before (downturn of the economy leading to state budget cuts) and we’ll probably go through it again,” said Kevin Evans, executive director of Western Plains Youth and Family Services. “We’ve had to do more with less, and that’s kind of sad.”


“Years of large tax cuts and growing tax breaks have left Oklahoma unable to maintain key services. Oklahoma has cut nearly $1.5 billion annually since the mid-2000s (including more than $1 billion cuts to the top income tax rate) . . . At the same time, Oklahoma has cut spending across all areas of public services,” says the Oklahoma Policy Institute at OKPOLICY.ORG.

According to the policy institute, which was founded in 2008, “ Oklahoma continues to underfund care for our most vulnerable citizens. We have the second highest rate of untreated mental illness in the nation, yet this year the Department of Mental Health was forced to cut services for over 700,000 adults and children with mental illness and reduce payments to treatment providers by up to 30%. There are over 7,400 Oklahoman’s with developmental disabilities on a waiting list for home- and community-based services.”

Budget cuts have become the norm rather than the exception in Oklahoma. State Rep. Mike Sanders acknowledges the 2017 state budget to be re-assessed in February for the mid-term adjustments.

“I expect there will not be the expected $1.3 million shortage, but instead a shortfall of $600,000,” said Sanders. “Long-term strategic planning is needed for the 2017 legislative term and will require cooperation from all three entities—House, Senate, and Governor. “Obviously, we have a lot up in the air for this session.”

Western Plains Youth and Family Services opened Feb. 10, 1978. Evans has been the executive director since 1995. The mission statement is the following: “To provide quality community-based education, preventative services, counseling, shelter, therapeutic foster care services, to individuals in need, enriching the lives of children and families (GuideStar.org).“

“We want to keep kids out of state care,” Evans said. “The life span of children from the Department of Human Services (DHS) is 11 years less than that of children who have not been in the DHS system.

“Health Homes is a preventative program for Oklahoma families that was developed by the Department of Mental Health. It includes physical care, mental health care, parent training, and has an enormous outcome. Health Homes can even reduce the $2000 a day cost of inpatient care for Oklahoma’s children.”


According to Evans, Oklahoma has a big need for foster care in order for children to live with a family instead of in a shelter or group home, and because 75 percent of abused and neglected children end up back in their original home of abuse and neglect.

“Foster Care is a planned, goal-directed service that provides 24-hour-a-day substitute temporary care and supportive services in a home environment for children birth to 18 years of age that are in Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) custody,” states the www.okdhs.org web site.

“Western Plains Youth and Family Services had funding cut by 12 percent in both December 2015 and March 2016,” Evans said. “More cuts are expected in 2017. At the present, it can house a maximum of 10 children, age 0 to 18, at a time at the shelter. It has served 610 children in 2016, and 30 Health Homes. In 2017, this count will go up to 100 Health Homes, which is a voluntary program for which parents sign up. The program helps to keep children out of DHS custody through its education and support services.”

Due to the economic downturn, Western Plains has delayed the 13,000 square feet addition to be attached to the current facility located west of 8th Street on Hanks Trail. To fund this addition, they have been granted $150,000 each from the Sarkeys Foundation and The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. A USDA grant loan is pending at this time. An additional $2 million of fundraising for this addition will also be necessary.

Evans, explained there will be a reassessment of the state budget after the first of the year. The extent of the budget cuts is not yet known. The staff will continue to do grant-writing, fundraising such as the annual Run for Shelter, and receive cash donations from local businesses, churches, and individuals, in order to keep its doors open and services available to meet the needs of children and families in northwest Oklahoma.

Evans is proud of how well they (Western Plains) have done regardless of annual budget cuts. They continue to provide necessary services to northwest Oklahoma children and families. Recognition of this ability is evident by the three-year CARF International accreditation that Western Plains Youth and Family Services, Inc. received in May of 2016, and the three-year Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Certificate of Distinction it received in November 2016.


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