When Daniel Moore’s children are asked how many siblings they have, they typically answer: “I’m not sure. I haven’t met them all and our family is still growing.”
Moore, patriarch of what he calls a large, chosen family, has been a foster dad for 16 years as a traditional foster parent, in a group home setting, fostering on a campus and fostering older children in independent living. When we last spoke with Moore in 2015, he was the ranch foreman for Circle of Care Boys’ Ranch in Gore, and now he manages all of the foster and adoptive placement agency’s properties and foster homes across the state. He and wife Saysha, a school teacher, live at the Boys’ Ranch with their adopted and foster children, and open their home often to former foster children, now grown, some with families of their own. Moore, whose foster journey began when he was single, has personally fostered 167 children.
“It’s not DHS or Circle of Care or a church or an after-school program that changes children’s lives,” said Moore. “It is a connection with another person. We are people who need other people. We give them an anchor to come home to.”
The Moore family recently adopted a sibling set of four, has four previously adopted children and is fostering one child, all ranging in age from 4 to 21. Moore jokes that waking up with babies in the night and potty training are not his forte, but he is passionate about fostering older children. Teens can experience more long-term trauma, having been in the foster care system longer, oftentimes separated from siblings and having been moved more times than they could count. Moore’s oldest son went through five failed adoptions before the age of 14; another son was moved 14 times in three years. Moore said those experiences haunt them.
His greatest success as a foster parent comes in taking in older children who have no hope left, making a genuine connection with them and watching them blossom with the realization that one person finally cared enough to help them turn their lives around.
“They need a parent just as much as the young ones, just in a different way,” said Moore.
Helping foster teens break the cycle
While it can be true that older foster children’s behaviors or survival methods are more ingrained, and their desire to have some control over their lives or fend for themselves may be stronger. Moore said with any foster child, it’s imperative to look past behaviors to determine the root issue.
“By the time they are 16, they may be going from one shelter to the next, just biding their time until their freedom [from the foster care system at age 18],” said Sarah Steffes, vice president of development for Circle of Care. “They don’t have a lot of trust, and socially and emotionally are no longer kids. They often think they can do things better than other people or the state has done things for them. If the adults in their lives are [just] seeking compliance and discipline, this creates a constant power struggle.”
Steffes said foster teens’ greatest need is adults who understand how to parent a child who’s experienced trauma and who will teach independent living skills in an environment where the child can rebuild trust without strings attached.
“If we can teach them how to be healthy adults and parents, we can break the cycle so their own kids don’t end up in foster care,” said Keith Howard, CEO for Circle of Care.
In addition to fostering children at the Boy’s Ranch, Moore has been heavily involved in Circle of Care’s Preparation for Adult Living Program (PAL) in Tahlequah, available to students age 16 to 24. When a foster child turns 18, they are, essentially, declared an adult and turned out of the foster care system. Moore said most kids who leave home have a place to call when they encounter a problem, like a car breaking down, a credit card they’re not sure they can pay off or a new baby they don’t know how to care for. The young adults served by PAL have no one, and, in most cases, no idea how to access resources to help themselves.
According to Circle of Care, in Oklahoma 300 kids age out of the foster care system each year. By the time they turn 19, up to 30 percent will have experienced homelessness, only 69 percent will have completed their GED or earned a high school diploma and only half will be employed full or part-time. Eight percent will have had a child and seven percent will have been incarcerated. Only three percent will attend college.
“We fail these children,” said Moore. “They are not ready to step out and do it. They need someone to teach them to pay bills, get a job and keep it, get their car fixed and budget their money.”
For teens in foster care, those who have aged out of the system, or even children not in foster care who don’t have parental stability, PAL teaches these tools, provides mentors, helps students secure housing and obtain their high school, college or vocational degrees. Many don’t have bank accounts or driver’s licenses, know how to get a credit card or grocery shop.
“These kids don’t have family or adults supporting them,” said Howard. “We serve them at a critical time as they transition to adulthood.”
Moore said the key to the PAL program is building students’ networks and teaching them how to access resources. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, PAL allows each student to determine his or her own goals, and the mentors guide them in reaching them.
“We don’t write the roadmap for them; we let them lead,” said Moore. “We help them take their first flight out of the nest. We let them fail, dust them back off and then push them back out, helping them find the tools they need to be successful.”
The young adults Moore has worked with through PAL are now gainfully employed, some getting married or having children, all able to support themselves. If their families are hungry, they know how to find food banks in their community, how to seek out an extra job or how to budget their funds carefully. When their babies are sick or have a diaper rash, they have someone to call for help.
“We know this works,” said Moore. “It increases their chances in life tenfold to have this program.”
Taking it to the next level
PAL is entirely funded by donations and grants, and of those 300 kids who age out in Oklahoma each year, PAL only has the capacity and funding to serve 20. Realizing their funding and location limitations, as it can be challenging for youth to relocate to Tahlequah to join PAL, Circle of Care is looking at ways to engage potential foster parents in central Oklahoma to consider fostering teens.
The organization will work with foster parents and community organizations to equip youth with the same independent living skills provided in PAL, helping them better transition into adulthood. Foster parents will be trained on trauma-informed care, provided transition planning services and supported by staff. Like all Circle of Care foster parents, they will receive financial and material support, like clothing, equipment, activity funds and welcome baskets.
Steffes said they encourage foster parents of teens to view their roles more as mentor or coach, using the training provided to understand how trauma has affected the teens’ very biology and, consequently, behaviors and helping them prepare for and transition to the real world.
“If we do this right, the foster youth we support will look back on their experience and believe that somebody valued and loved them enough to give them the space to make decisions and return when they make mistakes or need support,” said Steffes. “We make an investment in these youth with our time and unconditional love, and though the return may not come immediately, we frequently hear from past clients when their lives are more stable, ‘Thank you. You made a difference in my life.’”
Moore sees that return every day, in his own home and in the lives of many of his former foster children. One of Moore’s former foster sons had a new baby seven years ago, and after a failed attempt to take his new son and wife to meet his biological family, he called Moore in tears with the wish of giving his son a grandpa to look up to.
“I said, ‘bring him home,’” Moore recalls of his now grandson whom he enjoys keeping from time to time. “He calls me Papa.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about supporting students in Circle of Care’s PAL program, as a mentor or financial supporter, visit circleofcare.org/ministries/pal. For more information about fostering teens through Circle of Care, contact Sherri Johnson at 405-426-5070.
This is one part of a year-long series highlighting foster families in the Oklahoma City metro. For more, visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/foster.