Tahlequah Daily Press

February 12, 2014

Foster homes in big demand, short supply

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

— There are about 150 children in Garfield County in and out of foster home placement because of abuse or neglect, but there are only 27 non-relative foster homes in the county.

A shortage of foster homes exists throughout northwest Oklahoma, and volunteers are needed to become foster parents.

Jason Cecil, director of regional recruitment services for TFI Family Connections, is looking for those willing to open their homes and help children.

“What we’re trying to do is a foster parent drive to recruit and retain foster parents, especially in Garfield County, but throughout various parts of northwest Oklahoma” Cecil said.

Oklahoma Department of Human Services privatized foster care services last year and has contracted with TFI Family Connections to find more foster parents.

Cecil said most communities without enough foster parents are seeing children in need of foster care going to foster homes several hours away from their biological parents, or being placed in shelters across the state.

He said those interested in becoming foster parents first need to contact TFI Family Connections through its website, www.tfifamilyservices.org/Oklahoma, or by calling (866) 543-9810.

“Once they do that, they will need to fill out an application and there will be a 27-hour foster parent training class that can be done with various schedules,” Cecil said. “We do criminal background checks, home assessments and home studies.”

Cecil said foster parents need to be a minimum of 21 years old and there is no upper-age limit.

“And they can be single,” he said, noting that marriage is not a requirement to provide foster care.

Foster parents receive a reimbursement from DHS of $400 to $550 a month. Foster children have health care provided via Sooner Care and daycare expenses are paid for by the state. Foster parents also received a yearly clothing allowance.

Foster children who are in need of mental health services will be allowed to get those services from various agencies, such as ATS Counseling-Focus Institute.

Cecil said there likely would be a foster class as early as the first of March.

“If people are interested, and feel this is something they want to do, they need to get a hold of us,” he said. “We would like to get eight to 10 families, but we’ll do a class with less.”

Becky Kroeker, director and licensed counselor with ATS Counseling-Focus Institute, said being able to have foster children closer to their homes and biological parents can prevent further trauma to the children.

“ATS offers a lot of programs which support DHS foster homes and foster children,” she said. “I think it’s important to have a partnership with Jason’s organization because of the large need to have loving foster homes in our community to help parent these children.”

Cecil said DHS is learning more toward a bridge foster family model, where the foster parent will mentor with a child’s biological family. The goal is to keep the children as close to home as possible.

“When you place these kids in southern Oklahoma, that relationship is broken,” Kroeker said. “There can be attachment problems with biological parents when there is not regular contact.”

She said further problems can be caused when caseworkers continue to move children from foster homes that are closer to their home.

“Disruptions can also be caused by children not being near their parents,” Kroeker said. “It’s in the child’s overall best interest for that child to be in their own community.”

Cecil added, “They need to be with a family and not with a shelter.”

“When we can work with the biological parents and a child in placement,” Kroeker said, “we have a better success rate when we’re able to work with everyone.”

“It’s not uncommon to see a kid with three or four placement moves before they are stable,” Cecil said.

He said many counties in northwest Oklahoma are in need of more non-relative foster homes. Cecil said foster parent classes will be hosted where there are interested families, and not just in the Enid area.

“We’ll go where the families are,” he said.

Classes can be conducted to meet the time needs of potential foster families.

“We can either do three days in a row or nine weekly three-hour sessions,” he said. “Whatever works best for the family.”

The classes cover lessons on topics such as appropriate ways to deal with behavior, self-care as a foster parent and how to work in a team-work approach.

Cecil said he is available to speak to church or civic groups that would like to hear a presentation about the process of becoming a foster parent and the need within their community.

Cecil can be reached by calling TFI Family Connections at (866) 543-9810, extension 3043.