Stepping Up - The Carrington Family - MetroFamily Magazine
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Stepping Up – The Carrington Family

By Oklahoma Fosters

by Erin Page. Photos provided by the Carrington family.

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

MetroFamily began extensive reporting on Oklahoma’s foster care system in 2015. At that time, there were 9,500 children in foster care with 5,243 approved foster homes in the state. Since 2015, the number of children in state custody has been reduced dramatically, primarily due to intensive safety services provided to families in their homes, in many cases eliminating the need for children to enter the foster care system. Oklahoma now reports a 20-year low with 6,195 children in custody.

According to Oklahoma Human Services, keeping children in their homes while professionals work with families on safety concerns, connect them to counseling and other services, and focus on prevention services improves social, behavioral, developmental and well-being outcomes for children, reduces their future reliance on government assistance and reduces criminal and juvenile justice system involvement.

“Our prevention services, like intensive safety services, have had incredible success rates – 80 percent in state fiscal year 2022 – while supporting families without removal of their children,” said Casey White, external communications and media relations administrator for Oklahoma Human Services. “More importantly, allowing children to remain safely in their homes is better and less traumatic for the children and their families.”

Unfortunately, the number of approved foster homes in the state has decreased to 3,333, meaning Oklahoma still faces the challenge of not enough foster families to meet the current need.

“Our goal is to recruit enough foster families that we have multiple families to choose from and can find the best fit for every child who comes into state custody,” said White. “We need more foster parents who are willing to take teens, kids with special needs and sibling groups. These are the children who are hardest to place and need families willing to meet them where they are.”

The Carrington family of Moore has stepped up to meet these needs, and through their journey, they’ve gained much more than they’ve given.

Making the commitment

After approval and in-depth training, Meagan and Michael Carrington accepted their first placement in June 2021, two sisters, who still live in their home. The Carringtons have been a safe place for 17 total girls, adopting two and cheering on others as they’ve returned to biological families. They currently have six girls in their home, plus Michael’s biological daughter.

The Carringtons have a heart for fostering teenagers and children with greater behavioral needs, called Enhanced Foster Care, which requires additional training. They have found some of their early fears about fostering to be unfounded, especially regarding managing the kids’ sometimes difficult behaviors and working with Oklahoma Human Services. Meagan appreciates that the agency doesn’t expect perfection — an attitude the Carringtons extend to the children in their care.

“Raising these kids is just like raising your own kids,” said Meagan. “A lot of people get caught up in the kids’ behaviors or not wanting to deal with their [biological] families, but at the end of the day, they’re just kids.”

The Carringtons enjoy teaching and instructing their teens to prepare for life as adults and note the girls’ eagerness to learn coping skills and healing strategies.

“I tell them, we can’t erase the first part of your life – instead of erasing, you have to deal with it and be there for them,” said Michael.

When it comes to working with Oklahoma Human Services, the Carringtons have been intentional in building genuine relationships with their caseworkers and their kids’ therapists. Whether they need help getting a child to an appointment, advice on handling a situation or even immediate crisis management, support is always available.

Setting expectations

On their first night as foster parents, Michael didn’t sleep. He sat in the living room all night in case the girls needed him. He admits that the beginning of a placement can be awkward when all parties are getting to know one other. The Carringtons focus on building structure, setting clear expectations and giving their kids space to simply be kids.

“They just want to feel safe,” said Michael. “Once you get a schedule and routines down, they start to trust you.”

The Carringtons have strict expectations about grades to help ensure the girls, once out of high school, can obtain good-paying jobs, attend college through Oklahoma Promise (a program through which children in care can receive free tuition) and be set up for success without debt. Meagan says one of her foster daughters recently told her she didn’t care about her grades previously because no one had ever pushed her to do her best.

“You have to help pave that road for them because many have abandonment and commitment issues, struggle with who to trust and have to learn how to be accountable,” said Michael. “We have girls who want to be a judge or doctor, and their grades are what is going to help pay for that.”

Meagan enjoys seeing the girls in their care get comfortable enough to pursue their passions.

“You can tell you are really making a difference,” said Meagan.

Caring in community

When safe, the goal is always to bridge, or build relationships with, children’s birth families. Just as the Carringtons set expectations and boundaries with the children, they do the same with biological relatives. Their upfront, supportive manner, plus consistent communication, has resulted in lasting relationships. The Carringtons keep in touch with the families of children who’ve been reunited with biological relatives. Meagan sees herself as a lifelong support, offering parenting help and encouragement.

“It’s not their fault,” said Meagan of biological parents whose kids are in care due to a lack of resources. “That doesn’t excuse what happened to their kids, but when they take responsibility to fix their issues and get their kids back, I’m going to cheerlead because that’s what’s best for the kids.”

They also work hard to keep the kids in their home connected with siblings placed elsewhere. Two of their current placements have younger brothers with whom the Carringtons get together regularly.

“It means a lot to us to keep the bond with them so they don’t feel they’ve been forgotten,” said Michael.

Help for the holidays

This holiday season is the Carringtons’ first with officially adopted kids. Michael says they all feel immense peace knowing the girls are in their forever home.

The family has relied on groups like Oklahoma Human Services, Citizens Caring for Children and the Citizens Advisory Board in Norman to help with holiday gifts for the children in their care. In addition to considering becoming a foster family, local families can support foster families by volunteering with or donating to these groups this holiday season.

Learn more about becoming a foster family and find more ways to help at okfosters.org.

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