An email system aimed at improving child welfare launched this week in Oklahoma County to an excited group of church leaders and child welfare workers.
CarePortal already operates in a handful of other states and launched last year in Stephens County. Oklahoma County celebrated its launch of the system April 20 at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Chris Campbell, the executive director of local non-profit 111 Project, led the launch.
"I believe with all my heart we're going to fix it and we're going to change it," Campbell said of the broken child welfare system in the county.
The state of Oklahoma ranks among the worst in the nation in the overall well-being of its children according the Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. One thing that contributes to the low ranking is the growing number of children in foster care in the state. The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports the number of children in foster care in the state jumped from 8,046 in 2011 to 11,400 in 2014.
Traditionally, church members have been viewed by the state as people who are available to foster and adopt children. The CarePortal encourages child welfare workers to look at church members more as people who can fulfill a variety of needs starting with preventing children from entering state custody.
Every month in Oklahoma County, 506 families are investigated for child welfare issues. Of those, 213 children have to be removed from their homes, Campbell reported.
"For a long time, the church hasn't gotten involved in this issue," Campbell said.
The CarePortal aims to change that. Child welfare workers use the system to submit needs that arise among families they're working with. Their request goes out via email to CarePortal users within a designated area and people in the community who can fulfill the need respond to the email. The launch celebration was attended by many local child welfare workers and church leaders who had already enrolled to be part of the portal, which was launched with the assistance of a $34,000 grant from Life.Church.
Campbell officially launched the CarePortal by having a child welfare worker at the launch event submit a request. She was working with a mom who had recently worked hard to get sober so she could be reunited with her 2-year-old son. A judge ordered the mother to take one final step before reunification and that was getting a hair follicle test that cost $110. Campbell helped the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) supervisor submit the request to the portal. The email went out and the request was immediately fulfilled by a church leader at the event.
Campbell sees the portal as the essential piece to helping meet the needs of the community. Not only will it help prevent kids from ever entering state custody, it can also assist existing foster and adoptive families.
Dr. Deb Shropshire, a pediatrician and the deputy director of child welfare community partnerships for OKDHS, was one of several OKDHS employees at the launch. In her long history of working in child welfare, she said she's been saddened by the unfulfilled needs of Oklahoma kids, but feels the community has landed on the solution: "to get our hands around a generation of people and let them know they're worth something."
She believes the CarePortal is the piece of technology to help make that happen. The portal is open for churches and even small groups to enroll. Once enrolled, group members will be eligible to start fulfilling requests within the community.
To learn more about foster care issues in the Oklahoma City area, see all our foster resources.