"I came across a saying that captures us. 'Fostering in love for their today. Trusting in God for their tomorrow.' I wish that there wasn't a need for foster homes at all but am thankful God has called us to step in that gap." - a foster parent
On any given day in Oklahoma thousands of children are in need of foster homes.
With all the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem could grow even more.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services works to find temporary housing and guardianship for these children via foster homes, foster parents or group homes.
The Pinnacle Plan, adopted in 2012 and recently extended, has helped the situation at least some. The plan was created to better ensure the safety and well-being of children in DHS custody by contracting with foster care programs in the state to meet those needs.
The plan’s goals include cutting down on placements, recruiting more foster families, lowering caseloads, eliminating shelter use, and raising both worker salaries and foster family payments.
"Thanks to the Pinnacle Plan for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, there are now more social workers to better meet the needs of Oklahoma's children in DHS custody," said Katie Steward with DHS in Woodward. "Our primary focus is to provide more family-centered services to help children stay with their own parents. There is also a need for more individual foster homes for these children and finding more parents to adopt the children in DHS custody."
One of the agencies DHS contracts with is Circle of Care, a program of the United Methodist churches in Oklahoma.
A regional office opened in Woodward in 2016 and with the Methodist Church raised funds to build and operate two multi-sibling family foster homes in Woodward, allowing siblings to remain together with one foster family and not be separated across the state.
Circle of Care also finds, trains and supervises foster parents to care for children in need of a temporary home or awaiting adoption. Statewide the program is 15 years old.
"Our foster child arrived at 11:30 p.m. from another part of Oklahoma with only two black trash bags of his personal belongings. He was 18 and had been in foster care since he was 12 years old. He was separated from both his parents and all his siblings. He fit right in with our family. We knew he was settled in with us and content when he came and gave me his first big hug. That brought tears to my eyes." - foster parent.
Children can find themselves in DHS custody due to any number of reasons, including abandonment, abuse, neglect, parent in jail, orphaned with no family, parent addictions and poor living conditions among them.
With that, according to okfosters.org, there are several types of foster care based on children's needs.
• Traditional foster care where children stay 24 hours a day in a foster home temporarily
• Specialized foster care for children with developmental disabilities
• Therapeutic foster care for children with psychological, social, behavioral or emotional needs, and
• Intensive treatment family care for traumatized children with behavioral, medical, developmental and/or intellectual challenges.
According to okfosters.org nearly 900 foster families are still needed this year.
"There is a huge need for foster homes," said Alicia James, family specialist for Circle of Care. "Typically there is a four-week wait. Systems of Care, through the Western Plains Youth and Family Services, is a comprehensive home-based program that now has a waiting list. It provides services to both biological families and foster parents for dealing with behaviors, parenting skills and wrap around services for the family."
To become a foster parent, individuals can contact DHS (580-254-6000) or Circle of Care (580-290-5088) and fill out an application. That is followed by background checks, fingerprinting, home studies and individual interviews of all residents in the home. Upon approval, 27 hours of training is required and is available in Woodward, Oklahoma City, Enid, and via some online classes.
There are also foster parent support groups available to help meet the various needs of the foster parents and provide the annual continuing education requirements.
"In late October we got our call for our first set of siblings. It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a Friday. I was off work to help our son get ready to go to Boy Scout Camp. My husband was taking our son to camp and our daughter had other things going on so it was just me. I actually met a DHS case worker at an interstate turnoff over by Geary and picked the children up at 10 o'clock that night." - a foster parent.
That's not, unfortunately, a situation all that unusual. The call to a foster parent or family can come at any time, any place.
Note: All private citizens in Oklahoma have a legal responsibility to report abuse, neglect or abandonment to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. People can anonymously report child and adult abuse or neglect to DHS by calling the hotline 1-800-522-3511.