Over the past 15 years, Western Plains Youth and Family Services has seen a continual increase in the number of children in need of foster homes.

Kevin Evans, executive director of Western Plains, said the center has been providing Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) since 1993. And in that time, he said he has “never seen a greater need than today.”

“The number of children needing foster homes has gone up dramatically,” he said.

Evans noted that according to the latest reports he has heard, there are over 7,000 children in Oklahoma who are waiting for foster parents.

“We’re reaching a critical point,” he said. “We need to do something to turn this around.”

As the number of children living in shelters like the one at Western Plains continues to increase, so does the need for foster families.

Evans said there are simply not enough foster parents to handle all the children in the system.

He said it has become somewhat difficult to recruit new parents.

In the briefest of explanations, he simply said, “kids are tough.”

However, Evans said that is no reason “to throw our hands up and refuse to help them.”

Ed Dowty knows just how tough kids can be. Not only has Dowty been a high school teacher for a number of years, but he has raised four children of his own.

But when his youngest daughter graduated from high school and left home, Dowty was not particularly excited at the thought of having an empty nest.

“I personally can’t imagine a home without a child,” he said.

So for the past three years he and his wife Shirley have opened up their home to foster children.

Dowty said it took a while to fully convince his wife that it was a good idea, although he had known for years that it was something he wanted to do.

He got the idea after serving as the director of Woodward High School’s alternative program, where he was also a counselor for the students.

Through this position, Dowty said he met a number of children who were either in the foster care system or were candidates for the system.

In talking with the children, he realized that “they carried lots of emotional baggage.”

He then realized he had the opportunity to help the children and “at least temporarily give them some idea of what it’s like to live in a normal home” by volunteering as a foster parent.

Dowty shared his desire to help these children with his wife, telling her about the “incredible need for this type of ministry.”

While some may think of being a foster parent as a job, Dowty said he thinks of it as a ministry. He and his wife think of every person as a triumvirate being with heart, body and soul and with every child they foster, they try to minister their needs in each area.

Dowty said they also try to help the child to realize their own potential. One of their goals is to help each child overcome his or her past and see “a clear vision of what the future can be.”

He said he and his wife hope to help the children “redirect their destiny.”

He said a foster child’s background generally sets in motion a “social inertia” that will lead him or her down the same destructive and abusive paths, unless some outside force, meaning foster parents, steps in to positively redirect that path.

Dowty said he knows this from personal experience as he was once a foster child himself.

“If it had not been for my foster parents, I don’t know where I would be today,” he said.

Chelsea Nielsen, district TFC supervisor, noted that people with all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of skills can offer something to children who are in desperate need someone to make a difference in their life.

For example, she said single parents often do well with foster children who have suffered sexual abuse and struggle to be around members of the same sex as their abuser.

Nielsen also said young couples, who may not have even had children of their own, have a ton of energy to offer, which can certainly come in handy with some foster children.

Krystal Lujan, TFC director at Western Plains, noted that every situation is different just as every child is different.

However, Lujan said that “if you’re willing to commit, then there is a child out there for you.”

Even if you can’t commit to fostering a child 24-7, Lujan said there are respite positions available, where you can basically act as a foster baby-sitter and watch a foster child for a couple of days at a time, while their full time foster parents take a break.

Dowty said he would just encourage people to “search their hearts” for a desire to help children.

He said the desire to help is one of the most important qualifications someone can have to become a foster parent.

“The greatest benefit is knowing I made a positive contribution in some deprived kid’s life,” Dowty said.

Dowty said he knows that many people may have concerns about becoming a foster parent. However, he said he said Western Plains Youth and Family Services offers plenty of support to help you through the process.

If you would like more information about becoming a foster parent or would like to submit an application, you can contact Chelsea Nielsen or Cindy Richey at (580) 254-5322, or you can contact Kevin Evans on his cell phone at (580) 571-1350.

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