Tuesday, May 9, 2017
By Tom Bates, Governor Mary Fallin's special adviser on child welfare and Pinnacle Plan implementation.
In Oklahoma, foster care has received heightened attention over these last several years as we have worked to implement the Pinnacle Plan reforms. Recruiting an adequate number of stable foster homes is key to almost every goal of the plan.
To support the Department of Human Services (DHS) and its private agency partners in meeting these recruitment goals, Governor Mary Fallin launched the Oklahoma Fosters Campaign in November 2015. Through this campaign, we were able to recruit over 1,000 new foster homes for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, marking the first time we reached a recruitment goal since the beginning of the Pinnacle Plan.
Latest figures show we have 9,296 children in state care, which is down almost 1,000 children since April 2016. We have not been below 9,300 children since January 2013.
The campaign’s success has been due to the leadership of the governor’s office and the collaboration of DHS with tribal partners, private foster care agencies, nonprofits, and most importantly, people of faith from across Oklahoma. At its core, the Oklahoma Fosters campaign is about mobilizing communities of faith for kids in foster care.
While we are thankful for what the Oklahoma Fosters campaign has accomplished, there is no time for rest. We are approaching the end of another fiscal year, and must finish strong to reach our goal of recruiting another 1,000 homes.
The Oklahoma Fosters campaign is about much more than reaching a certain number of new homes. It is about recruiting the right homes.
We need more homes willing to take teens, sibling groups and kids with special needs. These needs include medical needs, developmental disabilities or behaviors brought about by the trauma that comes with abuse and neglect. We need more tribal homes and homes in the Tulsa area because kids in foster care do better when they stay connected to their cultures and communities.
We must also make sure people better understand the core mission of foster parenting. Foster parenting is not an on-ramp to adoption. Foster parenting is about caring for a child in crisis and mentoring biological parents in order to facilitate safe and successful reunifications. To put it simply, foster parents stand in the gap to keep families intact.
Oklahoma’s foster care system has made significant progress over the last five years, but we still have work to do, especially in supporting the great foster parents we already have. I still hear from too many foster parents who have experienced poor communication or felt their concerns for a child were not fully heard.
We can do better. DHS leadership is working every day to create a culture that values foster parents as professional members of the child welfare team.
Foster parenting is difficult, even under the best circumstances, and we need the help of our churches and community partners in supporting foster parents through the tough days they will inevitably experience. If you can’t be a foster parent, please find a way to support foster parents as they work to care for and love our kids.