OJA Receives Arnall Family Foundation Grant

Mike Seals - May 8, 2020 11:31 am

Award will improve youth in state custody connection with families

OKLAHOMA CITY, MAY 8, 2020— The Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) today announced it has received a $20,000 grant from the Arnall Family Foundation COVID-19 Child Welfare Rapid Response Fund to purchase electronic devices so youth in its custody will have better access to communicate with family members, mentors and agency juvenile service workers. The electronic devices and accompanying software will immediately improve communication between youth and family members during the current COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards.

Money from the Arnall Family Foundation will be used to expand internet-based video visitation opportunities. OJA will work to effectively and efficiently develop strategies needed to use available technology (hardware, software, phone service and the internet) to support youth currently placed in its care to facilitate interactions between youth and their families and communities.

“OJA is grateful to the Arnall Family Foundation for awarding this grant to improve communication for the juvenile justice-involved youth in our custody,” said OJA interim Executive Director Rachel Holt. “It will make it easier for our youth to talk with their families, mentors, and with juvenile justice workers assigned to their case.

“OJA is focused on being a trauma-informed system and for a juvenile justice system to be truly trauma-informed, family engagement is essential because it contributes to the youth’s ongoing well-being and development. Using currently available technologies, money from the Arnall Family Foundation grant will build upon, strengthen and support family and community connections for all OJA custody youth in out-of-home placements.

“The ability to enhance the connections for families is essential to youth success and is directly linked to their long-term success as they reintegrate into their communities,” Holt said. “In addition, there is a correlation between family visits and youth maintaining positive behavior and improved academic performance.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 has accelerated OJA’s efforts to develop and implement innovative solutions for supporting youth and families. Safety measures to prevent the virus from infiltrating OJA’s two secure-care treatment facilities – Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh and Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou – 14 OJA-contracted Level E group homes and OJA-contracted detention centers included suspending in-person visits from family members, support workers, lawyers, mentors, and guests. To reduce negative impacts on youth and strengthen relationships with family and supportive community members, OJA and its providers have implemented additional protocols aimed at increasing family contact and reintegration planning through increasing phone contact and the use of video visitation.

“OJA’s plan to improve access for the youth in its custody will be a tremendous help to keep these children, many of whom already are suffering from trauma, connected with their families,” said Sue Ann Arnall, founder and president of the Arnall Family Foundation. “It fits in perfectly with the purpose of the Arnall Family Foundation COVID-19 Child Welfare Rapid Response Fund by supporting these children during a time when more strict physical distancing guidelines are in place. I am also glad to see that the electronic devices purchased with the fund will continue to be used after the pandemic is over by allowing children not only improved connections with their families, but also better access to online educational and cultural sites.”

Family members may struggle with online platforms and require technical assistance. Residential placement staff and local juvenile service workers will support families in technical assistance and also use alternative methods, such as phone, use of office Wi-Fi, office phone, or computer in family’s community, for visitation in the event family members do not have a smart phone or online technology available. In addition, the local field staff and placement staff will collaborate with the youth and their family to ensure consistent interaction with family members occur. Each facility may have their own unique challenges in the delivery of this opportunity and the challenges with supporting a private setting for youth to visit with family.

The Arnall Family Foundation COVID-19 Child Welfare Rapid Response Fund will strengthen OJA’s ability to implement key standards for family engagement by:

  • Promoting family engagement by eliminating or decreasing limitations for family visitation, such as email, mail, phone calls and video chats.
  • Easing and simplifying the process for families to engage with youth.
  • Ensuring that staff are well trained on the importance of family engagement.

Technology solutions implemented to address constraints instituted as a result of the pandemic have the potential to improve OJA’s ability to strengthen and improve existing family engagement practices.

After the pandemic, implementation of available technologies and guidance are expected to increase youth connections with online community resources, such as the local library, educational materials, cultural events, career exploration, and positive peer groups.

The Arnall Family Foundation grant will allow OJA to work closely with all residential providers and placement staff to ensure every youth has the ability to engage in a positive atmosphere for family visitation on a consistent basis. Staff training will be provided on the telecommunication procedures and best practices for family engagement.

OJA serves youth and families in all 77 counties across Oklahoma. The majority of youth who come into OJA custody and reside in an out-of-home placement are from Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. The youth return to their home community upon completion of treatment and rehabilitation.


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