This month marks a special anniversary. It’s been a year since I launched an initiative called Oklahoma Fosters, which renewed our efforts to find foster families for the hundreds of children in state custody and coming into state custody.
Its goal, simply put, is to recruit foster families.
There are nearly 9,800 children in state custody, and we desperately need the help of ALL Oklahomans.
Oklahoma Fosters is a statewide initiative uniting state, tribal and local governments, businesses, nonprofits and the faith-based community to end the foster care crisis in Oklahoma.
Since the launch of the Oklahoma Fosters initiative last November, we have seen wonderful spikes in both the inquiries into becoming a foster family as well as direct applicants to foster.
During the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, we recruited 1,080 new foster homes in just the first nine months of the initiative. The goal was 1,054.
We not only made the goal – we beat it.
We reached the goal because of the great partnership of my office, DHS, tribes, foster care agencies, community partners and the mobilization of churches across our state.
The goal for this fiscal year is to recruit an additional 1,080 traditional homes, and 172 therapeutic foster homes as well as seeking permanent adoptive families for the 548 legally free children in state care.
In year two of the Oklahoma Fosters campaign, we must not solely focus the need on more foster families. We must also have the right mix. We need families specifically in the Tulsa area as well as additional tribal families – 30 percent of our children in custody identify as Native American. We also need families willing to take teens, sibling groups and kids with varying types of special needs such as medical needs or developmental disabilities.
We have to continue to find ways to facilitate high quality families becoming foster parents as well as truly supporting the foster families who have answered the call. It is not enough to merely recruit more foster homes, we have to retain the great foster parents we already have.
We have made progress in streamlining the application and approval process by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and getting background checks done faster to ease the burden on families applying to foster.
But we still have work to do.
DHS is in the process of integrating the foster care and adoption programs.
This integration will further streamline processes and maximize efficient use of staff.
Once approved to foster or adopt, parents will be able to move between programs without reapplying or going through another home study.
This is the first time we have met the recruitment goals since the inception of the Pinnacle Plan, the result of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed against DHS and its foster care system. We agreed to make improvements in targeted areas within that system.
The settlement agreement established an ambitious five–year plan to improve performance in critical areas such as reducing the use of emergency shelters for young children, increasing the numbers of foster families, increasing the numbers of caseworkers, reducing caseworker workloads and reducing the rate of maltreatment – abuse and neglect – in care.
The expert monitors overseeing implementation of the Pinnacle Plan agreed in September to a joint request to extend the timeline to fully implement DHS’s reform efforts.
The success of these reforms is critical to ensuring the state can provide adequate protection and care to vulnerable Oklahoma children.
Oklahoma Fosters is just one part of our effort to improve our state’s foster care system under the Pinnacle Plan.
Support of foster parents is truly everyone’s job, not just that of DHS.
Can you help? We cannot do this important work without you! The Oklahoma Fosters Initiative needs everyone’s help from business leaders to faith leaders to school teachers. There is a place for you!
Visit the website of Oklahoma Fosters – www.Oklahomafosters.com – and please remember, the children who are in state custody are there through no fault of their own.
These children need foster families to love and support them during their time of need. You may be just what they need.