2NEWS puts mental health, Oklahoma foster home system under the microscope

TULSA - There's been a lot of talk about improving mental health services since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26.

From Gov. Mary Fallin on down, there are a lot of state leaders looking for ways to improve mental health services, including increasing funding.

The governor made the topic a major focus of her recent State of the State address, during which she unveiled her plan to allot $16 million to mental health.

READ: 'Mental health key point of Fallin's State of the State' (http://bit.ly/Govhealth)

Fallin said she and state legislators are prepared to face the issue head-on in the coming months.

"We are going to be talking about mental health, suicide prevention, prescription drug abuse and the general health of the citizens of our state," she said of the current session.

But part of what needs to be addressed may be the effectiveness of foster homes in Oklahoma.

2NEWS spoke with two men who grew up in the system to see how they dealt with the experience. One of the men says he called 144 different places home while in the care of the Department of Human Services before being turned away at 18.

"The whole time I was in there I wasn't thinking about aging out until the night before when they said 'What are you going to do tomorrow?'" said Timothy Alexander. "I said, 'I don't know."

Once he was turned out on the streets he said he became homeless instantly and soon involved with drugs.

Another product of the foster system told 2NEWS a similar story.

"We had no electricity, no water. All we had was gas," said Damien Gault of his time in foster care.

But like Alexander, Gault found himself in trouble once out.

"Even after I got out of DHS, I was still messing up cause I didn't look at life like life anymore," he said. " ... I've tried to cope with my feelings through drinking, taking pills and smoking weed. But all that has done is gotten me in trouble."

Gault's decisions even placed him behind bars.

"I went to jail for grand larceny, malicious injury, malicious injury to property and public intox," he said.

Mike Brose, of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, says cases like Alexander and Gault's are common.

And if mental health is really going to be improved in the state, Brose says, it starts by working with new adults slipping through the cracks.

"These kids, young adults are not getting services and we've got to do a better job because they are becoming incarcerated, pregnant or homeless at an extremely high rate," he said. "We've got to do a better job with that."

Alexander and Gault both say they've turned a corner, but recognize changes to the current system must be made.

There are a number of resources already available for those in Green Country, such as the Calm Center in Tulsa, COPES, preventbullyingtulsa.org and 211. Check out our KJRH.com/bully (http://bit.ly/2bully) for even more.

2NEWS anchor Russ McCaskey will be reporting further on Fallin's $16 million mental health proposal Wednesday night. Stay with KJRH.com and 2NEWS at 10.

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