Thursday, July 7, 2016
OKLAHOMA CITY - Governor Mary Fallin today announced that her Oklahoma Fosters initiative with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), private and faith-based partners has achieved its goal of recruiting more than 1,000 new foster families in Oklahoma.
DHS also reports that the number of children in state custody has dropped below 10,000 for the first time in three years.
This is the first time DHS has reached its foster care recruitment goal since the Pinnacle Plan was launched in 2012 to reform the state's foster care system.
“Oklahomans have again responded to a crucial need in our state,” said Fallin. “I’m pleased that so many Oklahomans came together to help us recruit foster and adoptive families so we can improve the lives of these children in state custody. I thank all of those Oklahomans who stepped up to make the commitment to be a foster or adoptive parent.”
While Oklahoma has been successful in reaching the Pinnacle Plan’s goals on several fronts, foster care recruitment has continued to be a challenge. DHS’s official goal for the 2016 fiscal year was 1,054 new foster families. The agency is still validating the final numbers, but preliminary figures show more than 1,070 new families were certified during the year.
“Achieving this goal is a great example of what can happen when Oklahomans from all walks of life – government, businesses and the faith community – work together in the best interests of our children,” said Fallin. “The goal of the Oklahoma Fosters campaign, simply put, was to bring all those groups together to help recruit more foster families for our children who are in state custody.
“It is rewarding to know that Oklahoma Fosters helped bring awareness to the need for more foster families to love and support these children during their time of need.”
DHS Director Ed Lake said it took a team effort to reach the state’s foster care recruitment goal.
“We are grateful for the support of Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Fosters initiative, and thankful for the thousands of compassionate foster families who provide loving homes to our children every day,” said Lake. “I often say that DHS cannot do this work alone. This has taken the government, working alongside faith, non-profit and business partners in every community to achieve this recruitment goal.”
Lake said he and staff with DHS Child Welfare Services were also excited, but cautiously optimistic, in June when the number of children in state custody dropped below 10,000. The last time the number of children in state custody was less than 10,000 was in July 2013.
The number of children in state care had been steadily climbing since the start of the Pinnacle Plan in 2012, peaking at 11,317 on Oct. 27, 2015. On July 6, there were 9,906 children in care.
Lake said there are two main reasons for the decrease: DHS’s investment in more resources to help keep kids with their families safely and avoid removals when possible; and DHS’s efforts to help children exit the system, either by safely reunifying them with biological families or finding adoptive homes or appropriate guardianships.
“I commend Ed Lake and his team at DHS for their efforts to safely reduce the number of children in state custody,” said Fallin. “I know it takes a multi-faceted approach to keep kids safe, to only have children in the system who truly need to be there and to help kids get back home or to another permanent home as quickly as possible.”
Jami Ledoux, director of DHS Child Welfare Services, said she is proud of the progress being made every day thanks to the dedicated workers serving children who are victims of abuse and neglect.
“We successfully helped 5,537 children safely leave the system last year,” said Ledoux. “If that wasn’t remarkable enough, there are an additional 1,481 children who are currently in trial reunification with their families or in trial adoptions. That is nearly 1,500 more children who are closer to leaving state custody. I am so impressed by our staff and the enthusiasm and commitment they bring to work every day. ”
“An adequate number of foster homes is foundational in the effort to reform the foster care system in our state,” said Tom Bates, special adviser to the governor on child welfare services. “Coming into state custody is a traumatic experience for a child. Stable loving foster families are necessary to help these children begin the healing process. In a best case scenario, a foster family not only cares for the child but is instrumental in mentoring biological parents and ultimately reunifying families. We still have work to do but Governor Fallin's vision for the Oklahoma Fosters campaign has been a game changer for child welfare in our state. The momentum is exciting to see and we are just getting started."
About the Oklahoma Fosters initiative
Governor Fallin and DHS launched the Oklahoma Fosters initiative in November with the stated goal of recruiting more than 1,000 new foster families to better serve children in state custody.
The Oklahoma Fosters initiative uses a grassroots approach to coordinate efforts involving faith, government, business and local communities to solve the foster care crisis in Oklahoma.
"We are grateful to all of the outstanding partners across this great state who are passionately dedicated to the service of our most vulnerable children and whose work together helped to achieve this ambitious first goal of recruiting more than 1,000 new foster families,” said Ashley Hahn, executive director of the Oklahoma Fosters initiative. “In addition to the efforts of Governor Fallin and DHS, we would like to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation, America’s Kids Belong, the 111 Project, Count Me in for Kids of OKC, the Child Protection Coalition of Tulsa and the Oklahoma City Thunder.”
In addition to continuing recruitment efforts for both foster and adoptive families, Oklahoma Fosters plans to expand minority outreach and increase awareness in the business community.
Oklahomans may get involved by going to the Oklahoma Fosters website – OklahomaFosters.com – and clicking on “Foster Care & Adoption” for information on being a foster or adoptive parent. They also may call the foster parent hotline, 1-800-376-9279.