OJA Campus in Manitou to become short-term residential treatment program for children and youth in foster care

OKDHS will take over property, lease it to Liberty of Oklahoma

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MANITOU – The Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center (SWOJC) in Manitou, used the past 26 years as a secure care treatment center for juveniles from across Oklahoma, will be developed into a treatment program for children and youth with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring mental health conditions who are in foster care, state officials announced today.

In closing SWOJC to comply with state legislation passed in 2017, the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) will transfer the property to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), which will contract with Liberty of Oklahoma Corp. (Liberty) to operate the treatment program, said Secretary of Human Services Justin Brown, who oversees both state agencies.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to expand services that are critical to improving the quality of life for children and youth in state custody,” said Brown, who also serves as OKDHS director. “In the not so distant past, children and youth with these diagnoses may have been sent out of state for a level of treatment that simply did not exist in Oklahoma. While short-term in nature, these treatments, stabilization and follow-along services positively impact long-term outcomes for children and youth, as well as their families.”

Liberty will convert SWOJC’s operations into 24 inpatient beds in three cottages for short-term treatment of children and youth who are in OKDHS custody and have intellectual disabilities and extreme behavioral challenges, often with underlying mental health conditions. The program’s goal is to stabilize youth in crisis and prepare them for less restrictive settings, including residential or family settings, helping fill a critical need in the state.

Liberty operates a similar treatment program at the Laura Dester Center of Tulsa, which previously had been used by OKDHS as an emergency shelter for children brought into the foster care system. Liberty also operates the Robert M. Greer Center in Enid, which for the last 23 years has served adults with identical clinical needs as the children being treated now at the Dester Center.

“With Child Welfare Services (CWS) of the Department of Human Services, Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation is pursuing the development of a 24-bed short-term residential treatment program to be operated at what is now the Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou,” said Dr. Hugh Sage, CEO of Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation. “The services would be provided to pre-adolescent and adolescent males and females in the custody of CWS. Following short-term treatment services and parent/provider training, the clients would each be placed with their parents or in appropriate CWS-funded residential community residential alternatives.”

Liberty will begin operations at the SWOJC facility later this year. OJA custody youth currently at SWOJC will finish their treatment program or transfer to another OJA placement before the Liberty transition.

SWOJC’s approximately 130 employees will have the opportunity to apply for jobs with Liberty once it takes over operations of the Manitou campus. Staff at SWOJC are responsible for juveniles who are adjudicated as a delinquent or youthful offender by the courts and placed in the custody of OJA.

SWOJC’s mission is to protect the community, intervene and provide treatment to juvenile offenders to reduce relapse into criminal behavior. Its goal is to educate and counsel the young men in its care to return to their communities as productive, law-abiding citizens.

SWOJC has enjoyed strong community support throughout the years. It has nearly 60 volunteers from the community who serve as mentors to the boys, talking with them on a number of topics and helping them with academics. Some discuss faith-based issues or encourage reading.

“I am thrilled that our dedicated SWOJC staff will have the opportunity to continue to serve Oklahoma's most vulnerable children,” said OJA Executive Director Rachel Holt. “Since the OJA secure care consolidation legislation in 2017, OJA has been committed to identifying a repurpose plan for our incredible staff and well-maintained facility at SWOJC. Our SWOJC staff continued with their daily mission of serving OJA custody youth throughout an uncertain future and during a pandemic. I am grateful for their dedication to OJA and know that they will bring the same commitment and superior service to Liberty. Today’s announcement culminates a cooperative effort by state and legislative leaders to find an alternate use for SWOJC.”

With passage of House Bill 2387 in 2017, OJA was authorized to consolidate its three residential care facilities into one campus, designated to be the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC) in Tecumseh because it had enough acreage to support the new campus and was centrally located. Since passage of the legislation, construction began in 2019 at COJC to build new cottages and renovate other buildings to reflect the agency’s emphasis on treatment and education. In August 2018, OJA closed its Oklahoma Juvenile Center for Girls in Norman and moved those operations to the COJC campus. In accordance with the legislation, OJA has successfully repurposed the Norman campus for contracted group homes since October 2018.

Concurrent with the OJA campus consolidation process as contemplated by HB 2387, OJA was directed to develop, in collaboration with other executive branch agencies and other such entities as OJA deemed necessary, plans for the repurposing of SWOJC. In addition to OJA and OKDHS, other state agencies that worked on the effort were the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), which will license the treatment center; Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), which will oversee the transfer of property; the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), which will oversee education of the youth and children at the center; and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), which will work at claiming Medicaid reimbursement.

“We are excited to welcome Liberty and their operations to the community of Manitou,” said state Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika. “We are especially proud to know that of all the factors considered, Liberty was most impressed with the quality of the people at SWOJC. The commitment of all SWOJC employees to service through multiple years of the property’s future being uncertain is remarkable. Their pride in maintaining the facility despite the age of the physical plant is commendable. The unwavering dedication and profound passion of all staff at SWOJC illustrate the best of rural Oklahoma.”

State Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton, said: "For close to three years, Senator Kidd, Director Holt, and I have worked diligently to find a way to repurpose SWOJC to continue with their mission in which they excel. This news today just goes to show what happens when we break down silos in these state agencies and work together to find common sense solutions. I am thankful to OKDHS, OJA and Liberty in their partnership to continue helping young people of southwest Oklahoma and Oklahoma as a whole."

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