OKLAHOMA CITY (17 October 2016) – The Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Conference – featuring a Harvard University researcher, keynote speakers focusing on equity and disparity concerns, alumni of Oklahoma’s foster care system, early childhood, high-risk families, mental health and substance abuse, plus lively panels – will be held early next month.

            The annual event is slated Nov. 2-3 at the Nigh Center on the Edmond campus of the University of Central Oklahoma.

            The two-day conference, which originally was called the Fall Forum, “assembles many of the brightest minds in Oklahoma regarding children’s policies to discuss issues that affect children in our state,” said Joe Dorman, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA).

            The conference “helps formulate a legislative agenda to encourage policymakers to focus on the critical needs facing our state’s children,” said Dorman, who served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for 12 years. Legislators have been invited to attend the KIDS COUNT Conference as observers, “to share ideas and meet constituents,” Dorman said.

            The KIDS COUNT Conference is the state’s premier event that provides training to improve the lives of Oklahoma children and opportunities to examine pertinent issues.

            Topics of discussion this year will include foster parent training, early childhood development, substance abuse, family preservation, domestic violence in the lives of children, youth homelessness, human trafficking, poverty, and the school-to-prison ‘pipeline’. Workshops will be held with experts in several fields to share their expertise on topics ranging from child welfare and the Department of Human Services’ Pinnacle Plan, child hunger, mental health and wellness, etc.

            Kicking off the conference will be Justin Evers, a third-grader who was selected by the OICA and Sunbeam Family Services to be the first “Kid Governor of Oklahoma”. During Justin’s term he has addressed various issues affecting the well-being of Oklahoma children, particularly foster care. His parents, Lindel and Shannon Evers, are foster parents.

            The agenda also will include a panel of state agency directors and leaders discussing state policy and budgetary issues that affect their field of work. Participants will include Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake, State Supt. of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, and state leaders representing Oklahoma’s health, mental health, and juvenile justice agencies.

            Dr. Tom Sander, a noted researcher from Harvard, will be the luncheon keynote speaker Nov. 2. https://www.hks.harvard.edu/saguaro/staff/sander.htm. His presentation – “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” – will explore issues of inequality and opportunity, and the growing class gap among U.S. young people.

            The Laura Choate Resilience Award winner will be recognized, too. The award celebrates individuals who have been significantly affected by adverse childhood experiences but have overcome obstacles, made a lasting contribution to the lives of young people, and inspire resilience in youth.

            The award is named for Laura Choate, a lifelong advocate for Oklahoma children; she has worked with the OICA to reform the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice system to better serve and protect Oklahoma children. http://oica.org/laura-choate-resilience-award/

            “I look forward to the policy discussions and hearing from the experts we have assembled,” Dorman said. “If you live in Oklahoma and work with children’s policies, you’ll want to attend this gathering.”

            This year’s conference will be co-hosted by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Sunbeam Family Services and the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth. Registration can be performed online at http://oica.org/.