By Anthony Kibble, State Homeless Coordinator, Oklahoma State Department of Education
During my career, I have had the opportunity to focus my efforts on strengthening the Oklahoma child serving system from both a direct practice and administrative level. Early on in my career, I worked with at-risk, neglected, and delinquent youth in direct practice settings that allowed me to acquire a well-rounded understanding regarding their needs, perspectives, and general feelings toward “traumatic life experiences” and “the system.” This experience has supported me greatly in the administrative work that is often focused on compliance, grant administration, policy, statutes, and laws. The administrative level work can feel lonely and frustrating due to not being directly involved with the children and youth for whom you are developing various policies, laws, and procedures.
Oklahoma has taken a proactive approach to addressing the needs of children, youth, and families experiencing or at-risk of becoming homeless. Senate Bill 511 passed the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed by Governor Mary Fallin in May, 2015, respectively. This legislation was viewed by many children and youth advocates as a revitalization of the charge to improve the system for at-risk or homeless children, youth, and families. A comprehensive report was developed in partnership with multiple entities across the state and provided clear but concise recommendations for improvement.
The first order of business appeared to be a definition of what is a child or youth experiencing homelessness. It was no surprise that advocates from the national, state, and local levels provided strong support for Senate Bill 1369. SB1369 created an Oklahoma definition for this population that matched the reality of what we see: children and youth living temporarily with other people, in hotels, and in shelters, transitional housing, and places not designed for sleeping. While we all know the difficultly in crafting a definition given the multiple definitions that exists, it was certainly a start and one for the “books.” The long-term hope is that state agencies and non-profit organizations will adopt the definition, in particular for the older youth that tend to age out of the system or what I would call “aging out of their supportive system.”
The State Homeless Education Coordinator role requires a great deal of humility given the sheer volume and number of children, youth, and families that are experiencing homelessness. It’s with great pride, hope, and compassion that I’m able to continue a career journey of assisting the most vulnerable populations. While education is an enormous system with its own identity, it’s certainly worth the challenge of being a change agent for children and youth. We are all aware that education is the one system that breaks the continuous and often devastating shackles of poverty. Well, it is with this, I will leave you and look forward to engaging with everyone in the environments in which we encounter each other.