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Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs partners with former DHS group home

OKLAHOMA CITY - A quiet, 240 acres of land will soon house teenagers in juvenile custody - with the hope for a more peaceful future for them.

“That's what we're trying to do is move back more to a state home setting to where you can actually have a correctional facility that corrects instead of moving toward a prison-like facility,” said White Fields Chairman Tom Ward.

Ward co-founded the former boy's home with his son in 2006. They partnered with Oklahoma Department of Human Services for more than 10 years.

Therapeutic foster care became difficult and funding a challenge so, in March, White Fields closed - but only temporarily.

“We reached out to several branches of several agencies and also with other nonprofits to see if there's another type of child that would be suited for the campus,” Ward said.

Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs ended up making the most sense taking teenagers who would otherwise be in a more traditional detention center.

“A young person that goes into secure care has a less likely positive outcome than somebody that we're able to intervene with and prevent in the community,” said Executive Director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs Steven Buck.

Buck also said many of the teens going to White Fields will be the types of cases already familiar to the organization.

“In many cases, a juvenile justice kid and some of our more challenging foster children, in many cases are, mine are the ones that got caught and, so, they become involved with my system,” he said.

The new private/public partnership will allow more than 45 juveniles to go there. Buck said public safety is a high priority when selecting which teenagers will go to White Fields.

“We will make sure, as we do with all youth that come into our care, to place them in the right opportunity so that the public can feel safe with the decisions we’ve made but also that we provide opportunity to young people that they have maximum amount of success,” he said.

Teenagers who might thrive in the right environment.

“We will evaluate, and we will identify and place young people who show the opportunity that they can indeed be successful in a community-type placement,” Buck said.

They are working with vocational schools to teach carpentry, welding and culinary skills on the campus.

“What we will try to do is guarantee a child will have a job once they leave our facility,” Ward said.

“What we hope to accomplish with this White Fields work is to really do some generational bending and help young people fulfill their full potential instead of a trajectory, which suggests adolescence to DOC,” Buck said.

For more information on the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, click here.