Oklahoma Human Services: Family First Support Project

State Outline
Oklahoma state outline with Center for States logo

As Oklahoma Human Services (OKDHS) leaders began thinking about the opportunities afforded by the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First), they wondered how they could develop a prevention plan that would not only be approved but would help them keep families from bumping into the child welfare system at all.

When they thought intentionally about who could help them get it done, the Capacity Building Center for States (Center) rose to mind. OKDHS has partnered with the Center on other projects and has built strong relationships with Center staff and consultants. Deborah Shropshire, M.D., M.H.A., OKDHS Child Welfare Services Director, reached out to Mona Davis, the Center’s Tailored Services Liaison for the region, to explore potential partnership.

As the Center staff listened to OKDHS leaders talk about their goals, they honed in on the agency’s strong track record of collaboration and the challenges inherent in communicating about—and engaging partners in—planning within the complexities of Family First. Following the development of a Family First Support Plan and consultation with Candice Ward, a team of consultants were identified and assigned. This team of consultants, including lived experts, began working with OKDHS to build partner engagement and communications capacity.

The partnership between the Center and OKDHS opened up opportunities to learn from other states, as well. Keitha Wilson, OKDHS Family First Prevention Services Act State Lead, shared the value of participating in one of the Center’s peer groups. “It wasn’t just the partnership with the Center’s team,” Wilson said. “The peer-to-peer connection with other states, learning and leveraging what they’re doing, was so helpful.”

“It wasn’t just the partnership with the Center’s team,” Wilson said. “The peer-to-peer connection with other states, learning and leveraging what they’re doing, was so helpful.”

OKDHS leaders realized early on that, to move forward effectively, they needed to identify a point person with the dedicated time and flexibility to wake up every day thinking about prevention planning. “I think we often make the mistake in child welfare to layer new work on top of what someone already has to do, and they don’t have the time to effectively manage it,” noted Dr. Shropshire. “We freed Keitha up intentionally so that she could focus on this.”

As team members worked to bring partners into the conversation, they heard excitement about the vision behind Family First, as well as a need for clarity about the limitations of the legislation. This sparked planning for how to embrace the vision for prevention and discussion about Family First as one piece of the puzzle.

Some project results and ongoing opportunities include:

  • Partnership with the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association to ensure that the OKDHS plan reflected the priorities and feedback of the state’s 38 federally recognized Tribes
  • Development of a communications plan to support consistent and concise messaging to help partners understand Family First without getting lost in the weeds
  • Creation of coordinated and collaborative approach to align prevention planning with Program Improvement Plan (PIP) and Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) development
    • As Maegan Wiss, OKDHS Continuum of Care Programs Administrator, described, “This was a great opportunity to make it meaningful, to make the connections, so that people understand it doesn’t just have to be about the CFSP or the PIP. They’re all intended to impact the same outcomes and that’s what we’re here for.”
  • Development of increased coordination and strengthened relationships between OKDHS and Tribal partners working toward equitable access to effective, culturally responsive prevention services for all Oklahoma families
  • Recognition of emerging opportunities for codesign that are reflective of the agency’s belief that system transformation cannot happen without lived experts leading the way

Because of the team’s strategic and thoughtful approach, including regular check-ins with their federal project officer, the plan required minimal revision and was approved more quickly than anticipated. While that was a success in and of itself, the project continues to have ripple effects throughout the agency’s work more broadly. As Dr. Shropshire summed it up, “Culture change is necessary for you to actually improve. If you want to transform something, you have to have a culture that’s about curiosity more than compliance.”


Learn About the Collaborative’s Capacity Building Approach

Capacity building is an ongoing, evidence-informed process that helps create a productive and effective child welfare system to better serve all children, youth, and families. 

Read the following publications to learn more about capacity building at the Center for States and the Collaborative:

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