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Advancing Child Well-being: The Role of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth


In the early 1980s, a significant issue surfaced in Oklahoma regarding the treatment of minors in state custody. A group of seven teenagers initiated a legal proceeding famously known as the "Terry D. Case," shedding light on distressing conditions within the state's child welfare system. This alarming revelation prompted media coverage in the form of Gannett's 'Oklahoma's Shame' series, which, in turn, propelled legislative and institutional responses.

In 1982, the Oklahoma legislature enacted House Bill 1468, establishing the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth (OCCY). Responding to the pressing need for reform, this legislative measure aimed to institute a robust framework for accountability and oversight within the state's child and youth service systems.



Each commissioner brings a specific perspective or expertise to the commission, ensuring a well-rounded and informed approach to the challenges and responsibilities the OCCY faces in safeguarding the welfare of children and youth in Oklahoma. The OCCY consists of 19 commissioners who demonstrate a commitment to public service. They are as follows:

1. State Leaders and Department Heads:

  • The Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services
  • The State Commissioner of Health
  • The Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • The State Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • The Chief Executive Officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority
  • The Executive Director of the State Department of Rehabilitation Services
  • The Chair of the SJR 13 Oversight Committee

2. Juvenile Affairs Expert:

  • The Executive Director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs

3. Appointed Members by the Governor:

The Governor appoints five members based on recommendations from specific organizations:

  • From the governing board of the Oklahoma Children's Agencies and Residential Enterprises
  • From one statewide association of youth services
  • From the Oklahoma Bar Association
  • From the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association
  • From a statewide court-appointed Special Advocate Association

4. Specialized Representatives:

  • One member representing a metropolitan juvenile bureau, appointed by the Governor
  • One member representing business or industry, appointed by the Governor
  • One member who is a parent of a child with special needs, appointed by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
  • One member with a demonstrated interest in improving children's services, not employed by a state agency or an organization receiving state funds, appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate

5. Community and External Input:

  • One member representing a community partnership board, appointed following guidelines set by the OCCY

6. Postadjudication Review Board Nominee:

  • One member appointed by the Governor from a list of three names submitted by the State Postadjudication Review Board



As a state agency, OCCY consists of a comprehensive range of specialized departments and programs operating collaboratively. Established to address evolving needs, the agency has remained unwavering in its dedication to child welfare. Over its history, it has championed strategic plans, cultivated collaboration among pertinent agencies, and offered recommendations to the Governor, legislature, and entities committed to the well-being of children.

Established in 1982, the Office of Juvenile System Oversight (OJSO) became the inaugural department at OCCY. Tasked with investigating complaints and reporting instances of both misfeasance (unintentional errors while trying to do something good) and malfeasance (intentional wrongdoing or rule-breaking) within Oklahoma's child and youth service system, the OJSO operates as an independent monitor. Its mission is to enforce compliance with established responsibilities, state and federal laws, accrediting standards, policies, procedures, and court orders. Through regular, unannounced inspections of state-operated children's institutions and facilities, the OJSO ensures accountability and upholds standards to safeguard the well-being of children.

In its active support of initiatives like Oklahoma Foster Parent Voices and Oklahoma Foster Youth Matters, the OJSO plays a pivotal role at every stage of the process. Oklahoma Foster Parent Voices provides a fair platform for foster parents to submit complaints and grievances, addressing concerns about their rights or potential retaliation by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) or child-placing agency employees. OJSO collaborates with the OKDHS Office of Client Advocacy to process complaints from Oklahoma Foster Youth Matters, following established procedures for resolution. Websites like and offer additional resources for those seeking more information.

Beyond its oversight functions, the OJSO creates strategic plans, fosters collaboration among relevant agencies, and provides recommendations to the Governor, legislature, and entities dedicated to the well-being of children. The OJSO also conducts vital child near-death and child-death reviews in the state of Oklahoma, serving as crucial mechanisms for evaluating and enhancing the child and youth service system to ensure an enduring commitment to the welfare of children.

In 1983, Oklahoma took a significant step by enacting legislation to set up a state-level advisory board with 21 members appointed by the Governor, enhancing the effectiveness of what later evolved into the State Postadjudication Review Board (PARB). This crucial institution, originally named the Foster Care Review Boards, was rooted in the legislature's 1981 initiative to establish independent, citizen-led foster care review programs in every judicial district, tasked with the vital role of impartial oversight. The 1990s marked a transformative period when the program underwent a name change to the Postadjudication Review Boards and fell under the supervision of OCCY to streamline organizational hierarchy and improve coordination. Comprising citizen volunteers appointed by OCCY, local PARBs throughout the state diligently collaborate with professionals in child maltreatment and delinquency cases across all judicial districts, emphasizing impartial oversight, fostering interagency cooperation, and offering recommendations to judges to ensure the best interests of each child, thereby preventing unnecessary delays in the foster care system.

In 1990, the legislature established the Office of Planning and Coordination for Services to Children and Youth (P&C) within OCCY. A primary objective of the office is to facilitate collaboration between child-serving state agencies, other public and private sector service providers, and stakeholders to address deficits in these systems effectively. By forming community partnerships, they set goals and priorities to improve the well-being of children, youth, homeless youth, and their families.

P&C addresses specific needs, like supporting children with incarcerated parents, through research, data collection, and educational toolkits. They also provide technical assistance to reduce childhood homelessness, collaborate with agencies, and assist Transition Age Youth (16-25 years old) facing challenges in transitioning to adult-serving systems. OCCY, under P&C, coordinates a Parent Partnership Board that includes lived experiences in decision-making, recognizing the importance of consumer input in improving child-serving systems. Additionally, the Preschool Development Grant and collaboration with the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OPSR) enable P&C to boost family engagement, train partners, and create family advisory boards for a more connected and supportive system.

Established in 1991, the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board (CDRB) at OCCY was born out of the Oklahoma legislature's recognition of the imperative for a comprehensive assessment of child fatalities. Operating with a multidisciplinary approach, the CDRB carefully examines the circumstances surrounding the deaths and near deaths of children (up to 17 years old) in the state. Through the systematic collection of statistical data, the CDRB formulates recommendations to enhance policies, procedures, and practices across various agencies dedicated to the protection and well-being of children. Comprising both a statewide and four regional boards, Oklahoma's Child Death Review Boards serve as a vital tool for ongoing improvement in safeguarding Oklahoma's youth.

The CDRB also plays a crucial role in a national perspective by compiling standardized data related to child fatalities. This information is reported to the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention, serving as a valuable data source for the CDC, research facilities, national scholarly journals, and conferences. In the specific case of Oklahoma, the CDRB operates under a statute-created program with established practices, policies, and budgetary support, contrasting with some states that rely on volunteer organizations.

Freestanding Multidisciplinary Teams (FSMDTs) were established in 1997 to investigate child abuse cases in partnership with various district attorney offices throughout the state. Since 2007, the FSMDTs department at OCCY has overseen the state's FSMDTs. The department ensures team compliance through annual reviews and provides financial support to effective teams, uniting law enforcement, child welfare, mental health, healthcare, and prosecution professionals. Managing the Children's Justice Act Grant, the department funds training for professionals involved in child abuse cases. At the same time, the Board of Child Abuse Examination (BCAE), facilitated by the FSMDTs department, offers continuous training for medical professionals conducting evaluations. The department develops and maintains procedures for licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, or physicians to qualify as forensic evaluators for juvenile competency hearings based on court orders, reinforcing their commitment to child protection and legal integrity.



For more than four decades, OCCY has committed itself to creating positive change within Oklahoma's child welfare system. Rooted in a history of devoted service, OCCY strives to improve services provided to children and families, eradicating substandard conditions and improving systems that safeguard the well-being and prosperity of Oklahoma's children, youth, and families.

From the OJSO, which conducts regular, unannounced inspections, to the State PARB, which provides impartial oversight and recommendations, OCCY's commitment to child welfare is demonstrated at every level. Initiatives like Oklahoma Foster Parent Voices and Oklahoma Foster Youth Matters showcase active collaboration to address concerns and provide a fair platform for foster parents and youth. FSMDTs comprising professionals from law enforcement, child welfare, mental health, healthcare, and prosecution work together to investigate child abuse cases. Furthermore, departments like P&C and the CDRB underscore the multifaceted efforts to enhance policies, procedures, and practices, ensuring a continuous and dedicated commitment to the protection and well-being of Oklahoma's youth. 

As we reflect on our journey, OCCY's commitment to Oklahoma's youth, families, partnerships, and communities remains steadfast, and we look forward to the ongoing pursuit of a better future for the children and families of Oklahoma.

Last Modified on Mar 08, 2024
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