Over 5,000 families across Oklahoma have waited 13 years for developmental disability services (DDS) for their loved ones. Many of them don’t know exactly what they are waiting for or when something will be available.
For decades, they’ve been told “no” by the Oklahoma Department of Social Services. Our agency did not have the funds or the ability to meet their needs.
But thanks to a historic investment from the Oklahoma legislature during its 2022 session, DHS is becoming a yes agency.
Over the past two weeks, we have held our first community family conferences to help people navigate the process of getting off the waiting list.
From Lawton to Tulsa, we met families who fought day in and day out to support their loved ones, waiting for the state’s promised support.
I heard about a family with a daughter with cerebral palsy. After attending a regional conference, the family’s feelings of overwhelm turned to relief. They will soon have access to programs and services that will improve their daughter’s life.
I’ve seen incredible changes in my body language while spending time with my family. The family, accustomed to being told “you have to wait”, arrived skeptical. But then I met a caring developmental services staff member who listened to the hardships my family had endured. Their frowns faded.
Families have connected with DHS providers and community partners, learned about readily accessible resources, and eased their shoulders. They made a to-do list now that vague promises became concrete steps to take next.
They got answers to questions about their specific situation. By the end of the day, they realized what was possible. They left the event feeling the spring in their hopes and steps.
Additional regional meetings will be held quarterly as families’ names are added to the waiting list. DHS is proud to finally be able to say ‘yes’ to people with developmental disabilities in Oklahoma and within two years we can say ‘yes, we have completed the waiting list for these critical services’. I hope it will.
Samantha Galloway is Interim Director of the Oklahoma Department of Social Services and has worked in the developmental disabilities field for over 20 years.