Angels Foster Family Network: Changing the state of foster care in Oklahoma - MetroFamily Magazine
MetroFamily Magazine

Where OKC parents find fun & resources

Angels Foster Family Network: Changing the state of foster care in Oklahoma

by Erin Page

Stephanie Moffitt is an Edmond school teacher and a single foster mom. Her dream of one day adopting a child began when she was a little girl, so for her, the decision to foster children was an easy one.

“I decided I wanted to help children who were already here on this Earth,” said Moffitt. “I have the love and support to give a child, so I opened my home to help foster children in the community.”

Moffitt became a foster mom for the first time in 2011 through a private foster child placing agency called Angels Foster Family Network of Oklahoma City.

“Angels has been with me every step of the way,” said Moffitt, who is especially appreciative of a social worker who has attended every one of her foster children’s court hearings, support groups with other foster parents and fun activities with other foster families. She’s also benefited from ongoing training and continual support to help her foster children blossom.

“It is amazing to watch a child who is scared and alone, but after time they have overcome so many obstacles and are so full of life,” said Moffitt. “All of these children come from hard places, and they deserve a chance.”

Angels is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, funded through private donations from individuals and foundations. Many of Angels’ foster children have lived in emergency shelters or a series of short-term foster homes after being abused, neglected or abandoned by their biological parents. Angels seeks to provide these children the safe, loving, stable home environments they deserve.

Angels founder and executive director Jennifer Abney started the organization in 2008 after seeing firsthand the difference love and security can make in a single foster child’s life.

In the words of Abney and her husband’s first foster child, now their adopted daughter: “My mom started Angels to help other kids just like me. She said meeting me changed her life forever, and she never wanted another child to feel so alone.”

The Abneys fostered their daughter through an Angels organization in San Diego, and when they moved to Oklahoma in 2007, they were struck by the countless negative stories on the news about foster care in our state. The former interior designer and business owner says simply, “We decided to do something about it.”

Tackling the lack of daycare for foster children

And do something they have, from helping completely reform the foster care system in Oklahoma to offering transformative attachment and bonding therapy for foster children, and now the revolutionary plan to open a daycare center specifically for foster children.

Angels’ unparalleled support team is a key reason the organization boasts one of the highest rates of foster family retention—more than 96 percent—in comparison to the former county care retention rate of around 30 percent. That support team truly listens to its foster families’ needs and challenges. Every day, Angels families who are trained, approved, ready and willing to take in a foster child have to turn down a placement because they can’t secure daycare for that child on such short notice. Abney says it’s typical for her team to call three or four families before finding one that has daycare accessible, has a stay-at-home parent or can take a short leave of absence from work until daycare can be secured.

“Daycare centers want to know ages upfront when you ask them to hold a spot for a child,” said Moffitt. “But you can’t give that information because you don’t know the ages of the child(ren) being placed in your home. Many daycare centers, churches and in-home centers will not even put you on a wait list until you have a child placed with you, which leaves you scrambling. A lot of times they are full.”

Moffitt has adopted one child, has fostered three children through Angels and is currently fostering a newborn baby.

Another challenge is that many daycare centers aren’t equipped for newborns, Abney said.

Currently, five other foster families are helping Moffitt care for the baby during the day until she can secure full-time daycare. While a great example of the supportive network Angels has built, it’s not a long-term solution.

Enter a group of high school students with the answer. After an application process, Angels was selected as the 2015 recipient of Edmond Memorial High School’s Swine Week fundraiser. In its 29th year, the event unites students and the community to raise money for a local nonprofit organization. The goal this year was $350,000, and as tradition goes, if students meet the goal, their principal has to kiss a pig. Students smashed this year’s goal to reach more than $701,000, all of which will be formally presented to Angels in May and will allow the organization to open its much-needed daycare center for foster children.

“The new daycare center facility that Angels is opening will make it so much easier on foster parents to know they have daycare taken care of,” said Moffitt. And according to Abney, the center also means children will be placed faster.

Angels’ board of directors has narrowed the field to two contenders, both existing buildings that will need to be remodeled to fit the vision for the center, which the agency hopes to open by fall 2015. The daycare will not only be open to Angels foster children, but also to any child in Oklahoma foster care. Those children who currently have to sit at an OKDHS worker’s desk while waiting for placement will be able to attend the center instead. Foster families will be able to bring adopted or biological children to the center as well, saving them trips to multiple facilities. Staff will be trained in Angels’ therapy programs, so children will benefit from receiving complementary therapy at daycare and at home.

“Our ultimate goal is for the daycare to be a top 3 star facility [the highest DHS ranking for childcare facilities],” said Abney. “Also, children in our new daycare will have the benefit of an understanding staff and not struggle so much when acting out.”

The Angels difference for Oklahoma foster care

The daycare center will be one of many revolutionary changes Angels has brought to Oklahoma foster care. Awarded the opportunity to affect change in our state’s foster care system on a grand scale in 2012, Angels was one of only four private agencies selected to manage the recruitment, training, support and retention of all foster parents in the state. This transition of foster care management to private agencies came after the Oklahoma Department of Human Services settled a class action, civil rights lawsuit against its foster care system. While operating independently from OKDHS, Angels receives its referrals from the agency and enjoys a positive working relationship with OKDHS and the other three agencies now placing foster children in the state, as well as subcontracting local agencies who work under the Angels model of care and support

Before the improvements in the lawsuit settlement’s Pinnacle Plan began to take place, only around 40 percent of foster children were ever adopted by foster families, and most bounced around from home to home, never finding permanent placement. In 2000, the average foster child under age 3, more than a third of children in Oklahoma County foster care, lived in three to five different locations in their first year of placement.

In just a few years, Angels has helped shatter those statistics and reform the very core of how foster care is provided and managed in our state. Abney has also witnessed a positive shift in how OKDHS operates.

“Using a private agency for foster care placement frees up OKDHS to focus on birth families and their situations,” said Abney. “In turn, we have become the advocates for foster families and foster children.”

Since its founding, Angels has advocated for more than 500 children in foster care and their foster parents. Sixty percent of those children have been able to return home to family, and 25 percent have been adopted by their Angels families. The rest remain in a long-term Angels placement until a permanent placement can be found.

Angels foster parents are permitted to foster only one child, or sibling group, at a time, while OKDHS used to allow parents up to six foster children at once, in addition to other adopted or biological children in the home. Consequently, Angels parents are better able to give the focus and attention needed to each foster child’s development, education, medical needs and therapy.

“Fostering is a hard and difficult job,” said Moffitt. “You take these children in and love them like you would your own. It may only be for a short while, or it could turn into a forever situation. You have to go into fostering with an open mind, an open heart and know that there will be heartaches and challenges along the way. It is totally a risk worth taking.”

Erin Page is a freelance writer, graphic designer and public relations professional based in Edmond. She is nationally accredited in public relations, and her professional experience spans the healthcare, tourism, nonprofit, educationand small business sectors.Her proudest achievements are being wife to Jordan and mom to 3-year-old Addie and 1-year-old Hutch. Her other loves include cooking, running and her Oklahoma State Cowboys.

more stories