OKLAHOMA CITY — The state Legislature’s interim studies are ending as lawmakers prepare for the 2022 session. The studies showed lawmakers are focused on relating to children which could make Oklahoma safer for children. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) applauds the number of youth-related hearings held.

OICA tracked almost 50 studies and participated in three as presenters. The most recent was conducted by state Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. It was coordinated by Lisa Rhoades, program manager for the Child Death Review Board.

Lawmakers examined various ways children have died in Oklahoma over the past decade. While these deaths can be described as “accidents,” most deaths which happen to young people are preventable with policy changes or increased awareness by adults.

The study examined five topics: safe sleep conditions, automobile fatalities, firearms discharges, drownings and drug overdoses. The presenters on each of these topics did a fantastic job of conveying their primary issues and how simple changes could reduce the number of deaths.

James Craig with the Oklahoma Health Department noted babies sleeping on their backs is the safest position for them. Firm sleep surfaces protect against suffocation, and children who breastfeed are less likely to suffer Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Room-sharing for infants can help parents be more attentive to the needs of the child in those first months.

Leslie Gamble with AAA spoke to an issue we at OICA have championed: Oklahoma does not have a seat belt requirement for young people ages 8 to 18. We are the only state in the nation without such a requirement. Further, Gamble pointed out another type of vehicle death where too many children die when left in hot cars.

Bill Brassard Jr. from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) testified about child deaths by firearms being left unattended in the home. NSSF’s Project ChildSafe is one way families can protect curious youth in the home. Over the past decade, Project ChildSafe has distributed 38 million free safety kits with gun locks to help decrease unsecured firearm discharges. OICA is a proud partner in this endeavor. If you would like a free trigger lock, contact our office by emailing info@oica.org or calling (405) 236-5437.

Kathy Mendez, a co-founder of King Marlin Swim Club and a retired leader with USA Swimming, spoke on accidental drownings. Causes include unattended children around swimming pools, improper fencing to prevent access to pools, and the lack of swim lessons available to urban youth. Communities replacing community pools with splash pads, she said, is keeping kids from learning to swim.

Andrea Hamor Edmondson, from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, discussed ways to prevent drug overdoses. Addressing mental, emotional, and behavioral problems early on can reduce the use of drugs for later years. Having healthy families, educational institutions, communities at large, health care, business/employer and faith-based organizations all involved in the life of a child helps prevent drug use. Having access to quality treatment programs also supports those who want to receive help early on.

While many deaths can be reduced by parental support, we must act as communities to reduce the number of child deaths. Being active members of the community and providing positive outlets for youth can make a tremendous difference. Finally, being aware of issues that require intervention might make the difference in a life-or-death situation.

Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

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