Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
For Immediate Release: September 12, 2013
Sen. AJ Griffin
Senate panel examines foster kids who age out of
About 300 to 400 Oklahoma children in state custody “age out” each
year when they turn 18—many are unprepared for this sudden
transition. On Thursday the Senate Health and Human Services
Committee held the first of two hearings examining how rules and
procedures impact children in state custody, as well as looking at
the issue of homeless teens in Oklahoma.
State Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, requested the interim study. Griffin,
who spent 15 years working with children in state custody, has
first-hand knowledge of the subject. She said that for children,
being forcibly removed from their home is the most intrusive thing
government can do. Griffin said it’s important to understand how
public policy impacts those children after they’re in state custody.
“These children have little due process and few rights. The very
policies meant to protect foster children may actually hinder their
ability to develop the life-skills necessary to become independent
adults,” Griffin said. “This is not about expanding government. This
is about taking an honest look at those policies and the resources
that are available and learning more about how Oklahoma can do a
better job of ensuring these children can succeed once they age out
Jim Walker is the executive director of the Youth Services of Tulsa
(YST), an organization that uses private funds to help provide
shelter care as well as transitional housing to help homeless teens
and those who have aged out of state custody to gain independence.
The organization also offers outreach services to homeless youths.
Walker noted some foster children do qualify for free tuition and
books if they want to go to college, but explained that only
addresses a part of what is needed.
“Only a third of our kids that age out of foster care have a high
school diploma or a GED,” Walker said. “The kids we’re seeing
through our outreach programs are ones that don’t have a clue, and
don’t have a diploma. Many times they don’t have a birth certificate
or a social security card. You can’t do much of anything without
those,” Walker said. “Every week…we pay for and get them those
documents so that they can move on or at least have a beginning.
There is a huge need. It’s not only in Tulsa, it’s across the
Removed from his family at two months old, Robert Reed, from Lawton,
is now 19 and is a client of YST. Robert told members he lived in
more than 30 foster homes. Despite having no high school diploma,
when he reached 18, his services abruptly ended.
“They told me, your bags are in the back…do you have anybody that
you need to call,” Robert recalled. “And I’m like, anybody I need to
call? You all took me away from my mom and dad. I don’t know what
they look like. I don’t have nobody…what are you talking about?
Well, that’s all we can say.”
Jessica Mitchell was not a foster child, but her mother’s mental and
physical health issues caused them to become homeless. She said she
had no idea there were services like transitional housing until she
wound up in a YST shelter.
“When you’re in that type of situation, you are preyed on. You are
vulnerable. You see the absolute worst in human nature, especially
being a female,” Mitchell said. “You’re just completely thrown out
there. I think that’s the thing that’s really hard is just realizing
that for not only myself but for a lot of these kids, there just no
With the help of YST, Mitchell was able to complete her education
and now works with youths who face similar situations to hers.
Representatives from the Youth and Family Services program of El
Reno as well as Lions’ Club Boys Ranch in Perkins also talked to
committee members about the challenges facing teens who age out of
state custody, as well as the complications service providers face
in trying to assist the population.
“One huge issue is the government rules these programs must follow
are supposed to ensure safety and well-being, but they often end up
causing even more problems,” Griffin said. “Nationwide, we know that
kids who have been in foster care are actually more likely to go to
prison than to college. Obviously, something is very wrong.”
The second and final hearing for Griffin’s interim study will be
held in October. For more information, contact Sen. AJ Griffin at
For more information, contact:
Sen. AJ Griffin at 405-521-5628