By Governor Mary Fallin
Special to Guthrie News Page
I can still remember the late-night telephone calls. My mom worked for the Department of Human Services and was needed to deal with an emergency placement of a child. As my mom prepared to leave, I would hope there would be a safe home to take care of those children.
I still have that wish today. A new initiative that DHS and I recently launched is helping make my wish a reality.
Oklahoma Fosters is a combined, coordinated campaign to renew our efforts to find foster families for the hundreds of children in state custody and coming into state custody.
Our goal, simply put, is to recruit more foster families.
These children are in state custody through no fault of their own. These children need foster families to love and support them during their time of need.
There are nearly 10,500 children in the foster care system, and we desperately need the help of all Oklahomans.
Oklahoma Fosters is a statewide campaign uniting state, tribal and local governments, businesses, nonprofits and the faith-based community to end the foster care crisis in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Fosters is about rallying different groups to a call to action. This is a crisis. And we need to respond.
Oklahomans are listening. Since January 1, Oklahoma Fosters has received 665 inquiries from those considering being foster families.
The faith community is also stepping up. So far, the state denominational leaders of the United Methodist Church, the Southern Baptist Church, the Assemblies of God Church and Oklahoma Council of Churches have said they will help participate in the campaign. Together, they represent over 2,500 Oklahoma churches.
All churches and denominations can get involved. If you haven’t heard about Oklahoma Fosters in your place of worship, ask your pastor or rabbi.
In the coming months, the Oklahoma Foster campaign will be on the road to make communities aware of the program as well as recruit new foster families. These events will include town hall-type settings, recruitment fairs and large awareness events.
Why is all this necessary? In 2012, Oklahoma recognized it had a crisis when it came to its foster care system and children in state custody. In response, the state Pinnacle Plan was launched. It has a variety of goals intended to improve services for Oklahoma’s vulnerable children, increase safety and prevent abuse and neglect.
It has been successful on several fronts, but unfortunately, what the Pinnacle Plan has not been as successful in achieving is perhaps its most important goal: reducing the number of children in state custody and getting them into safe and loving homes. In fact, we’re falling behind. We’ve gone from just under 8,000 children in state custody in May 2012 to nearly 10,500 today. There are a lot of families in various forms of crisis or need in our state.
To reduce that number, we MUST recruit new foster families.
I’m encouraged by early results of Oklahoma Fosters. For the first time since the Pinnacle Plan began, DHS in February recorded an all-time high of 160 families in a month enter the certification process to become foster parents. They have actually begun the process of background checks and training.
Ultimately, the hope is that the Oklahoma Fosters campaign is the birth of a statewide movement around the foster care crisis.
If the right family match is made for a child in state custody, Oklahoma will see a reduction in abuse and neglect in care, placement instability, use of shelter care and older youth aging out of the system without a permanent family.
Interested? Check out the Oklahoma Fosters website: OklahomaFosters.com.
It’s my wish – and hopefully yours, too – that with your help, we can usher in a new day in our state: one where no child is ever waiting on a family, but rather a long line of families is waiting to take care of our children.