In many foster care situations, the transition from biological family to foster home is somewhat seamless. While it’s never a good situation for a child to be pulled away from his or her biological family, a foster family often offers the temporary relief needed that ultimately leads to reunification with the biological family. But sometimes, the foster situation doesn’t stick and children cycle in and out of different foster homes unsuccessfully.
That’s where non-traditional foster care intercedes. Two local foster communities—White Fields in Piedmont and Peppers Ranch in Guthrie—offer resources to provide stability for foster children and support for foster parents. The children who end up in non-traditional foster care have often been through more than a dozen foster placements before landing at White Fields of Peppers Ranch.
According to OKDHS Communications Manager Katelynn Burns, the children who have a difficult time remaining in the foster care system typically have behavioral issues relating to the trauma they experienced while in the care of their biological parents. Others may not have behavioral problems but have costly or time-consuming medical issues that can be too overwhelming for some foster parents.
When David and Bethany Bond decided to foster two teenage boys two years ago, they knew they had their work cut out for them.
“There have been many nights when after we told the boys goodnight we would look at each other and wonder, ‘Can we do this? With just a few short years until our boys are adults themselves and can leave anytime, how can we possibly make a difference in their lives?’” David said.
But they’ve been able to foster them successfully from their home at White Fields, a 14-acre campus in Piedmont that surrounds local foster boys with a community of therapies, healthcare professionals and enrichment activities.
The boys who come to White Fields are between the ages of 8 and 12 and have usually been through 18 to 30 foster care placements unsuccessfully. They’re often described as hopeless, neglected or abused. White Fields is their last hope, said Executive Director Frank Alberson.
Of this same demographic of boys in foster care, only three to seven percent will not spend the rest of their lives in the systems of either prison, OKDHS custody or mental health care.
These statistics were known to David and Bethany when they decided to foster two boys, ages 15 and 17. So the Bonds decided to provide their boys with a safe home, food and friendship along with academic and medical resources that could help them reach their full potential. What the boys decided to do with the support was up to them.
“We decided to do our part,” said David, who is a youth pastor at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene. “We left the rest up to them and to God.”
But all the while the couple hoped and prayed the boys would welcome their new foster parents into their hearts.
The foster boys were reserved and distrusting when the Bonds first met them.
“I couldn’t blame them,” David said. “The day we met our oldest, I remember telling him that we would take care of him and be there for him. Immediately after I told him that I remember wondering how many others had said the same things to him. His life was a series of broken promises.”
David chose to lay the foundation of the boys' road to recovery with honesty.
“Sometimes they will ask me questions and if I don’t know the answers, I’ll tell them I don’t know,” David said. “I’ll say ‘I honestly don’t know. But let me try to figure it out.’ I think they’ve responded well to that. They don’t see me as a know-it-all. I’m learning along with them.”
The Bond’s oldest foster child, now 19, works and goes to high school. Bond is proud to say for the last school semester the boy made almost all As and one B. He hopes to attend the University of Central Oklahoma. This Christmas, he told the Bonds he would like to be an official member of their family and together the family is in the process of adopting him.
Just north of Edmond and west of Guthrie lies a community similar to White Fields. Peppers Ranch was founded in 1999 on 160 acres of land destined to become a safe haven for foster care children. Since then, the ranch has expanded to cover 300 acres with homes where 13 families with foster children reside.
Parents at the ranch started fostering before relocating to the ranch where resources provide invaluable support.
“We are a real community,” Executive Director Tonya Ratcliff said. “Foster parents at the ranch are not employed by the ranch; they have their own jobs and lives outside of the ranch but choose to live here and pay rent here because of the support our community offers one another.”
That support comes in the form of fishing, gardening, cooking and horseback riding classes for foster children along with learning programs, therapy and academic tutoring for the children and support groups for the foster parents.
“Our mission is to break the cycle of abuse and neglect,” Ratcliff said. “The ranch is a safe place where these children can heal from their pasts.”
Unlike White Fields, the children who come to Peppers Ranch with their foster parents are typically foster care children who are of any age and either gender. In both communities, special services and therapies are available to families free of charge.
Since its inception, the ranch has been home to more than 600 foster children. Ratcliff, who is also a foster parent on the ranch, echoed Burns’ sentiment over the need for more foster parents.
“The increase of children in the DHS system is not a government problem, it’s a family problem,” Ratcliff said. ”I think the sooner Oklahomans see it as that, the sooner they will be willing to help. These kids are an investment into our future; they are our future caregivers. We can either invest in them now as children or we can do so later in life when they would be dependent upon the system.”
Ratcliff said the idea of fostering children is understandably overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the process.
“The whole thing can seem daunting,” Ratcliff said. “But for every cost, the gain is multiplied. Fostering is more rewarding than anyone can imagine.”
Peppers Ranch and White Fields are helping to ease that burden on foster families and make fostering more rewarding than ever.