The tour, dubbed “A Walk in a Child’s Shoes,” was led by Tsinena Thompson, CEO of Oklahoma Lawyers For Children, which uses a network of volunteer attorneys to represent children in DHS custody free of charge.
The group saw a presentation about child abuse in Oklahoma, as well as visitation rooms, a court room and the juvenile public defender’s office.
“The walk in a child’s shoes was very, very eye opening,” Stitt said after the tour. “It is a really beautiful representation, but also a very alarming one, of what the most needy and vulnerable people in our state, these little children, go through.”
Addressing mental health and childhood trauma are large parts of Stitt’s platform as first lady, and she has recently spoken out on her personal experiences growing up with parents who dealt with mental health issues.
Oklahoma ranks third in the country for its rate of child abuse, Thompson said. Roughly 9,600 children are in foster care across the state.
Per Oklahoma law, every child in DHS custody must have legal representation. But because of low pay, the high number of children in the system and uneven accountability and qualification standards, parts of the state struggle to find attorneys to meet this requirement.
Founded in 1997, Oklahoma Lawyers For Children is meant to fill that gap. It represents every child in the Oklahoma County judicial district during their first hearing in the DHS process, Thompson said. Last year, they represented more than 2,800 kids.