Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The economic crisis has forced the State Department of Health to cut programs for at-risk children and will close half of its child guidance centers.

The child guidance centers focus on diagnosing children with speech, behavioral and development problems. When they shut down, counselors said many counties will lose a much needed resource.

"Having six kids in the house, there's something different every week comes up," said parent Eric Hughes.

Eric and Melissa Hughes have three kids of their own and foster three more. All are between the ages of two and five, and with that, they said parenting can be a bit overwhelming.

"It's been pretty invaluable to us, and I'm going to be sad to see it go if it does," Melissa Hughes said.

The Hughes, along with several other couples, attend a weekly parenting class at a child guidance center in Catoosa. During the classes, the couples share stories of their children's behavioral issues and learn strategies for how to cope with them.

"We've had just wonderful outcomes from our families. Families never heard this type of information before feel that much more connected to their children. As a result, they see more improvements in their child's behavior," said Tish Dehart, a behavioral health specialist.

While the services offered by this guidance center will continue, they will be cut in 17 Oklahoma counties by the end of the fiscal year. Parents in places like Creek, Washington, Okmulgee, Wagoner, Mayes and Adair counties will now have to travel other counties, or they will be out of luck.

"It's a Catch-22. We're grateful they are maintaining some child guidance services throughout the state, but sad to know half the services will be cut for families that most need them," Dehart said.

The Hughes said that's unfortunate because for them, the class how taught them how to handle the hardest job they've ever had.

"It's pretty disturbing to know that the state feels like that's something that's expendable to cut our education for our parents especially when you don't really need an education to enter parenthood," Melissa Hughes said.

The class for parents is just one resource guidance centers offer. Staff also works with schools to provide resources for children with developmental issues and said it's critically important to diagnose those problems as early as possible.

Officials said the changes will save an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million a year.

The full list of closings include Texas, Kingfisher, Logan, McClain, Garvin, Stephens, Seminole, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, McIntosh, Creek, Pawnee, Washington, Mayes, Wagoner, Cherokee and Adair counties.